Child Custody Cases and Records

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Going through the divorce process can be a very difficult time.  There are many things to think about, such as property division, alimony, and the end of relationship.  One thing that can make the divorce process even more difficult is when children are involved.   One of the most important decisions to make during a divorce process involving children is child custody.

There are different types of custody that can involve the child or children.  Legal custody allows a parent to make all decisions regarding the child’s health, education, and general up bringing.  For example, legal custody allows the parent to make medical decision or decide what schools the child should attend. A court can grant either sole legal custody or joint legal custody.  If a parent has sole legal custody, then they exclusively have the right to make decisions for the child.  Joint legal custody allows both parents to be involved in the decision making process.  Parents may also have either sole or joint physical custody.  Physical custody means that the child can legally live with that parent.

Custody agreements can work in many different ways.  For example, parents may share legal custody, but only one parent may have physical custody. Where parents share both physical and legal custody, this is called shared custody.  Most courts tend to prefer granting shared custody, unless there are extreme circumstances, such as abuse, neglect, or a parent is found unfit by the court.

Child custody laws will vary by state, however, in most cases, when a court makes the decision about a custody agreement, they must make their decision based on the rights of the parents as well as the best interests of the child.  In states such as Delaware, Florida, Montana, and Texas, there are laws that make joint custody a presumption in a divorce or separation case. States such as Alaska, California, Michigan, and New Hampshire have laws, which show a strong preference for using joint custody.   In total, there are 38 states (including D.C.) that authorize a strong preference or presumption for joint custody.

A child custody agreement is typically part of the general divorce proceeding.  The custody agreement will be finalized through a signed document called a parenting plan.  These signed agreements allow parents to enforce their rights to visit the children, if one parent behaves in a way contrary to what they agreed to.  Parenting plan records are maintained with the divorce records and can therefore be found in the courts where divorce proceedings are heard.  This will vary by state.  Some states handle family law cases in a court of general jurisdiction, such as District Courts.  Yet, other states or counties have specific Family Law or Divorce Courts to handle divorce and child custody matters.

To find information about child custody cases in or the location of courts in a particular state, visit and choose your state of interest. This website provides a complete lists of all trial courts in the United States, as well as contact information, and an explanation of the types of cases heard in each court.

One thought on “Child Custody Cases and Records

  1. Elizabeth Pearson

    I have full custody of my daughter and need to get the court documents stating this so I can get her a passport, we intend on traveling. The case was held in San Diego CA and I’m not sure how to go about getting this important paperwork. I am not currently in San Diego or CAlifornia. Thank you in advance for your help.


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