What you need to learn about filing a petition for child custody
The Petition for Child Custody
(CAFC201) is a petition to use in the special circumstance where the
requirements for the establishment of paternity have been met under Missouri
law but no custody order (Parenting Plan) is in place. A person is presumed to
be a parent when a mother and father both sign an Affidavit Acknowledging
in the hospital at the time the child is born, or a man who believes
he is the father of a child files a Declaration of Paternity
with the Missouri
Bureau of Vital Records. Paternity is
established when a court enters a judgment finding that a person is the legal
parent of a child. An administrative order of child support, by itself, does
not establish paternity.
What is the purpose of a Petition for Child Custody?
A court order for child support may or may
not establish custody rights between the parents and the child. A child has a right to frequent, continuing
and meaningful contact with both parents,
as appropriate, under Missouri law. A court order for custody contains a Parenting Plan
that specifically addresses the rights and responsibilities of the
parents, as well as the times and places both parents have for parenting time with the
child. A court order for parenting time (also called “visitation”) is enforceable
by the court.
How do I know if paternity has been established?
man can be recognized as the father of the child by:
1. Consent: Mother and father both may sign an Affidavit
Acknowledging Paternity in the hospital at the time the child is born; or
of Paternity: A man who believes he is
the father of the child can file a Declaration of Paternity with the Missouri
Bureau of Vital Records; or
3. Judgment: A judgment entered by a court finding that a man is the legal father of the
However, an administrative order for child
support is not a court order and, by itself, does not establish custody. When the administrative child support order
is approved by a court, it may contain a judicial determination of custody.
You must look at the court order(s) that set
child support or otherwise involve the child. If the order makes a determination of paternity (names a legal father),
you may use the Petition for Child Custody (CAFC201) if you are named as a parent and
there is no court-ordered Parenting Plan (custody order). If you are not sure, take your paperwork to a
lawyer to discuss your status as a legal parent.
How do I get started?
the documents you may need: a certified copy of the child’s birth certificate,
Declaration of Paternity filed with the Missouri Bureau of Vital Records,
administrative child support order and court orders involving the child.
Download and complete the forms in the petition for child custody packet
available from the Petition for Child Custody Forms page.
File the required paperwork with the court that entered the order establishing
paternity of the child (this is the court that has “continuing jurisdiction,”
the authority to enter custody orders involving this child). Make an original
and two copies of the Petition for Child Custody (CAFC201). One will be placed in a court file, one will
be used to notify the other parent, and one will be file stamped and returned to
you. There are filing fees connected with filing this petition. Use the "Find a Court" search feature to find contact information for the circuit clerk's office for the amount due
and method of payment. If you
cannot afford the court filing fee, inquire about filing an application to have
the fee waived, which is called In Forma Pauperis
(in the manner of a poor person). You will be asked to provide the court with
detailed financial information under oath so a judge can decide if you are
eligible for a waiver.
The court clerk will prepare a “summons” to be served on the other parent. The
sheriff or another court officer hand delivers the petition and the summons. It is important to provide the court with
very specific information about where, how and when to find the other
parent. A special or private process
server may be appointed by the court when it is difficult to find a person or
if a person is trying to avoid being served.
After the other parent has been served and given 30 days to file a
response, your case may be set for a hearing before a judge or commissioner. If
the other parent does not file any answer or appear in court, that person is
considered “in default.” This means the
court is not required to give that person notice of future hearings. The case may be decided without a person in
default taking part. Use the "Find a Court" search feature to find contact information for the circuit clerk's office and ask about the method for scheduling a hearing.
You may be required to attend a parent orientation program before the case
moves forward. Information about the
program may be provided to you at the time you file your paperwork with the circuit clerk. Use the "Find a Court" search feature to find contact information for the circuit clerk's office if you are unsure if this is a
requirement in your case.
the parent files an answer or appears in court, you may be referred to
mediation to discuss the parenting plan. It is best for all concerned if both
parents can agree on a parenting plan. MARCH
Mediation is a non-profit organization funded by the state to offer mediation
statewide for this purpose. Check with
your court for other mediation services that may be available. Where domestic
violence is occurring, however, mediation may not be appropriate. It is important to inform the court if this
is your situation. When parents agree about
some or all of the parenting plan issues, they can submit a joint plan to the
court for approval. Judges appreciate the time and efforts parent take to
develop a parenting plan and will approve agreements that are in the best
interest of the child.
8. A pre-trial hearing may be scheduled so the
judge or commissioner may review matters that need attention before the final
hearing. At the final hearing (trial),
the judge or commissioner will hear evidence and decide the case. If your case is contested, you will have to
prove your case with evidence during the hearing. This may include your
testimony, testimony of witnesses, documents and exhibits. You have the right
to get information before the hearing about other witnesses who will testify
and copies of documents that will be used.
The process for finding out this information is called “discovery.” Discovery has time limits and usually is
completed before the case is set for the hearing. The discovery process and
admission of evidence is complicated. You should consult a lawyer if these issues are involved in your case.
The decision of the judge or commissioner is written up as a “judgment,” which
will be signed by the judge or commissioner. Courts usually ask a party in the case to write up the judgment. If your case is contested you probably
will need the assistance of a lawyer to draft the judgment.
Can I contact the judge or commissioner if I have questions or concerns?
judge or commissioner must remain impartial in order to hear your case. The judge or commissioner and persons in the
case only can communicate when everyone involved in the case can hear and join
in the discussion. This usually happens
in the courtroom or the judge/commissioner’s office. The judge or commissioner will not read a letter you send to the court. Court
rules generally require the filing of a pleading or motion with notice to all
other persons involved to bring the matter to the court’s attention.
What if there are special circumstances involving the welfare of the child?
Missouri, the law considers “joint custody” to be in the best interest of the
child. If parents are unable to agree on
a parenting plan, the court selects one parent as the “residential parent” for
school and mail purposes. The court
decides the role of each parent in decision-making and care of the child
(commonly called custody and visitation). “Sole custody” can be ordered when
appropriate. The court wants to know about
circumstances that affect the best interests of the child. A guardian ad litem is appointed to represent
the interests of the child when abuse or neglect is alleged. Parenting time also may be restricted under
some circumstances. You should consult a
lawyer if special circumstances exist. This is very important if there has been domestic violence or concerns
about child abuse or neglect.
How can parenting time be enforced after a custody order is entered by the court?
time is not dependent on the timely payment of child support, although this is
another important parenting responsibility. The police generally do not get
involved without a court order that spells out parenting time. Even when an
order exists, the police are reluctant to make determinations better made by a
judge. The parenting time scheduled in the judgment is an enforceable court
parent who has been denied court-ordered parenting time may apply for
enforcement by filing a family access motion. This process is explained on this website under the Family Access
topic. Some courts have specific programs to monitor exchanges of
children according to the parenting time spelled out in the judgment. Contact your
local court clerk's office to determine if a program is available in your area.