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What Do I Need to Get Legal Custody of a Minor?



Parents normally share complete custody of a minor child unless divorce or illness, happens to change that. Courts can then award sole or joint custody based on the fitness of the parent(s). Non-parents can also gain custody of a minor under some circumstances.

How Courts Determine Custody

Although state rules differ, the overriding concern in most cases is the best interests of the child. If you can show that the custodial parent(s) is not making decisions in the minor's best interests, you have a case for getting legal custody.

Here are some factors the courts consider:

  • The parents' mental health
  • The parents' wishes
  • The child's wishes, if he or she is considered old enough to make such decisions
  • The child's current quality of life
  • Documented neglect or abuse

You may need to address these and any other relevant issues when you file for custody.

Steps to Take

State rules differ on when you may challenge custody and who may get custody of a minor child. The procedure will also vary depending on the circumstances for requesting legal custody, such as:

  • You are currently going through a divorce.
  • You are trying to change a current custody agreement.
  • You are a non-parent who believes the parents are unfit.
  • You are requesting an emergency, temporary order.

In general, you will need to follow these steps:

  • File the appropriate forms and other paperwork with the appropriate court. This may include a request for a court order and a supporting declaration—documentation legally justifying the need for your request. There will be a fee for filing.
  • Serve the custodial parent(s) with copies of your request.
  • Provide the court with proof that these copies were served to the parent(s).
  • Attend a hearing. The judge will review your request and ask you and the parents, if present, questions. The judge may make an immediate decision or may decide more information is needed.

Because of all the variables, it is a good idea to enlist the help of a lawyer experienced with child custody law. This is the best way to protect the interests of the minor child.