How to file for custody of my daughter?

I just left my boyfriend and took our daughter with me. The relationship was full of verbal abuse. I can’t afford a lawyer and was denied legal aid because of lack of funding so I am trying to fill out my own papers and build my case with the help of online forums. I’m trying to set up visitation and child support with the father and I’m trying to get physical custody of her. The father is not on the birth certificate but we have had a paternity test to prove he’s the father. I need to know what I should include in my papers and where I should file them. I’m at a loss what to do from here because the father has money and is threatening to take me to court.

Asked on September 12, 2012 under Family Law, Missouri


B.H.F., Member, Texas State Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 8 years ago | Contributor

You have three different issues:  1. getting an attorney, 2.  how to file, and 3.  how to protect yourself and your child.

You mention being denied because of lack of funding.  If you are a victim of abuse, you really need an attorney to help you through this process so that you are not revictimized or your child does not get caught in the cross-fire.  See if there are any other organizations that can help.  Do a quick search for legal aid organizations in Missouri.  Also within these Attorney Pages, many attorenys will help at a reduced fee or may accept payment plans so that you don't go through this unrepresented.

As far as filing--- you need to file in the state and county where you reside or your husband resides.  It will be easier if you file in your county.  You should take your paperwork to the clerk of the circuit court for the county you decide to file in.

Your final concern is the forms.  You need to include a couple of different things in your forms.  First, allege a basis that your husband's behavior has made it unreasonable for you to continue living with him and the marriage relationship is "irretrievably broken".  In your paperwork list that there was one child born of the marriage, and list the name of the child. You should include a request for standardized periods of visitation.  If you think that your child will or has been harmed by his behavior, include a request for supervised or restricted visitation. (Most divorces with children are a combo of a marriage dissolution and a child custody suit) 

If you cannot find an attorney... you may still be able to get some one-on-one assistance.  Once you have your paperwork filled out, see if you can find a legal clinic in your county or a nearby county.  Often attorneys will volunteer at these clinics.  They can at least look at your paperwork and see if anything major is missing.  It's worth a call to the clerk of the circuit court to see if they are aware of any such clinics.

The most important thing is not to panic.  If he does take you to court because he has money-- then use that.....  Show the court that you're a good mother:  you left an abusive situation, you provide a roof over your child's held, your child is clean and well-fed, you read with your child, you have activities lined up with your child (these are just examples-- but you can see where the idea is to show that you are a good parent).  Then, ask the court for child and spousal support.  If your ex- has money, he can fork a little over to help you and your child.  He'll try to use money as his edge, but argue to the court that you are the stronger parent emotionally to provide for the best upbringing of the child and that any financial issues can be resolved with a child support check each month-- which he obviously has the means to pay.  If he has paid nothing while ya'll have been seperated, note that to the court as well.  (i.e. if he really cared about the child, he would have set his hurt feelings aside and still provided for the child... but didn't)

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