One or both of a child's parents or another individual may seek to attain legal responsibility for the care, control and support of a child by filing a petition for an order of custody.
A non-custodial parent or other relative, such as a grandparent or sibling, who wants the right to visit with a child, may file a petition for an order of visitation. A petition can also be filed to change an existing visitation order.
In accordance with the Laws of 2008, prior to issuing any Order of Custody or Visitation, the Court shall search the statewide registry of Orders of Protection, the Sex Offender Registry, and the Family Court's child protective and warrant records relative to all parties requesting custody and visitation.
Custody and visitation matters are often heard together although the petitions may be filed separately.
A copy of the petition for an order of custody and a summons must be served upon the individual who has custody of the child.
- If one parent files the petition, the other parent must be served.
- If a non-parent is seeking custody of a child, both parents must be served.
Prior to a hearing, the judge may appoint an Attorney for the Child (law guardian) and will hear testimony from all involved parties. The judge or referee may also order an investigation and report from a social services agency or a mental health professional about the individual parties. After considering all of the evidence and submitted reports, the judge will decide the custody issue based on what is in the best interests of the child.
A copy of the petition for an order of visitation and a summons must be served upon all those who have custody of or visitation privileges with the child.
If the custodial parent does not consent to visitation, the judge or referee will hold a hearing to determine if visitation is in the best interests of the child.
- If the judge issues an order of visitation, a schedule for visitation may be set.
- An order of supervised visitation requires that all visits take place in the presence of another adult at a supervising agency.
Parties may be referred to mediation by the Court or may seek mediation on their own. If the parties reach an agreement, a full hearing is not required. The judge or referee will review the agreement reached, may listen to the testimony of those involved and issue an order of custody or visitation. However, if the parties cannot reach a mediated agreement, the case will be returned to the Court for an appearance before a judge.
Either party may petition for changes to a custody or visitation order. The judge will make a decision about changes to an existing order based on the best interests of the child.
In addition, if one of the parties violates an existing order, the judge or referee may alter the order.
In custody cases, the parties have a right to counsel, and the court may appoint legal representation to parties unable to afford private counsel. In many cases, the court will appoint an Attorney for the Child(law guardian) to represent the interests of the child involved.Family Court Home Page