Filing for Custody & Visitation
Custody and visitation laws are very complex and vary state by state. If you and your abuser can agree on the terms of custody and visitation, then you may be able to expedite the process by filing a settlement agreement with the court.
If you cannot agree, then you will have to file the appropriate documents with the court so that a hearing can be held to make a custody and visitation determination. While custody and visitation laws and procedures vary state by state, generally speaking, you first file a Complaint with the court to begin the process. Your abuser will need to be notified of this Complaint-usually by personal service (someone personally serving him with a copy of the Complaint). He has an opportunity to respond to the allegations set forth in the Complaint by filing his Answer. After the Answer is received -or if the Answer is not received after the allotted time, the court will set a hearing date(s). This process can take many months and sometimes years to accomplish depending on your specific case.
It is recommended that you contact a family law attorney with domestic violence expertise before filing for custody and visitation as the laws are complicated. If you can not afford an attorney, you can contact a local domestic violence program in your community.
Visit JWI's Resource Directory to access resources in your community for assistance in filing for divorce.
Many courthouses have Pro Se projects for individuals representing themselves in family law matters to help walk you through the litigation process.
To learn more about the resources at your local court house, visit WomensLaw.org, scroll down to your state, and click on courthouse locations.
If you are currently in hiding, whether in a shelter or another undisclosed location, and you want to keep your abuser from finding you, you can file for custody or visitation and take specific measures to keep your location confidential. There are different procedures in every state to keep a victim’s location confidential; often you can list your address “in care of” your attorney (if you’re represented by one and he or she agrees). Without an attorney, you can still keep your location confidential-contact a domestic violence professional in your community and/or a clerk in the court for help keeping your address confidential on legal documents.
To learn more about custody laws in your state, visit WomensLaw.org and scroll down to your state.
Information contained on this website should not be construed as legal advice. Read full disclaimer.