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Who can file for custody of a child?

Although New York parents may consider child custody to be primarily a matter involving parents, there may be additional situations in which other parties might seek custody. Family Court has oversight of child custody cases, and there are no filing fees for those seeking custody. However, one or both parents must be served in connection with such a case depending on who is seeking custody.

An individual who has a substantial relationship to or connection with a child may initiate custody proceedings by filing a petition. These individuals may include parents, grandparents, or others. One of the most common custody and visitation scenarios involves one or both parents seeking custody after legally separating or in connection with divorce. The parent initiating a custody case in this situation must have the relevant paperwork served upon the other. In cases involving someone who is not a parent seeking custody, the paperwork must be served upon both parents.

Initiating custody proceedings does not automatically determine an outcome, and the court activity may focus on issues such as the best interests of the child, ties to parents and other siblings, the health and well being of the parents and other issues that may impact the child in a given setting. In some cases, issues such as shared custody might be considered. In other situations, allegations of abuse may result in restrictions on both custody and visitation with a particular parent.

Being served with custody papers is serious, and a parent may want to discuss such a situation with an attorney promptly in order to determine how to best respond. In some cases, legal representation may be effective for negotiating a mutually acceptable agreement so that court activity is limited. In a more contentious case, strong representation may be important for ensuring that one's interests are clearly conveyed in court.

Source: New York City Family Court, "Custody & Visitation", accessed on Jan. 12, 2015

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