Where to File Your Child Custody Case

Where to file your child custody case depends on where you live since most states require child custody cases to be filed in the county or parish where the child resides. Within that county, you should file your child custody case in a district or family law court. If you move, you may have to wait before becoming eligible to file your child custody case in that county. Filing your petition in the wrong court or jurisdiction can result in a dismissal of your suit. For more legal advice, use the free tool below.

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Dec 22, 2020

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Every child custody case begins with filing a petition and paying a filing fee with the local clerk of the court. Before you turn over money for a filing fee, make sure you have located the proper court in the proper jurisdiction. As a general rule, most states require child custody cases to be filed in the county or parish where the child resides. Within the county, you should file your child custody case in a district or family law court.

Determining Residency

Your first step in deciding where to file your child custody case is to determine where your child resides. Even though this seems like a simple concept, it can be complicated where parents have been dividing a child’s time almost equally between two different jurisdictions. Some state family codes require a child to reside six months in the state or 90 days in the county before a child custody suit can be filed. If you have moved with your child, you may have to wait before you become eligible to file in your new state or county. Filing your petition in the wrong court or jurisdiction can result in a dismissal of your suit – and loss of your filing fee.

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Residency Exceptions

If there is an emergency situation that threatens the safety of you and your child, like domestic violence, some states have residency exceptions. Others will allow you to file for a temporary protective order, which includes some child custody parameters, to hold you over until you have met the state’s residency rules.

Where to File for Residency

Once you have met the residency requirement to file in a state and county, you will need to determine whether to file your child custody case in a district court or specialized family court. In smaller jurisdiction, state district courts handle most family law matters. Some larger jurisdictions have begun to set up specialized family law courts to hear matters like divorces and child custody suits. Child custody cases are not filed with justices of the peace or federal courts.

If you find that your situation does not fit neatly into one jurisdiction, you may want to consult with a family law attorney where you live. They can advise you regarding any exceptions or requirements associated with the facts of your case.

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