Petition for custody and support

This Guide can help you:

  • Understand when you can file a Petition for Custody and Support
  • Start a case for custody and support
  • Understand your options if your child's other parent started a case for custody and support
  • Find free resources for help with the process


Not sure if you're the child's legal parent?

Find out if you need to establish parentage before starting a case for custody.


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In California, when there are at least two legal parents of a child, one of the parents can file a court case to get court orders for the care and support of their children. This is called a Petition for Custody and Support. In this type of case, a judge can make orders about child custody, visitation (parenting time), and child support.

Who can start this type of case

Only certain legal parents can file this type of case to get custody and support order. A parent can file this type of case if:

  • They're married to the other parent and don't want to file for divorce, legal separation, or annulment
  • They and the other parent signed a Voluntary Declaration of Parentage (or paternity) or legally adopted the child
  • Another court determined they and the other parent are the child's legal parents (like in juvenile court or government child support case)

Petition for Custody and Support 

How the case gets started

illustration representing a fee to be paid

You file papers (a Petition and Summons) and pay a fee between $435 - $450.

There will be other fees if you need a court date to ask a judge to make orders about custody and support. If you can't afford the fee, you can ask for a fee waiver.

illustration of a signed paper form changing hands

Once you file the papers, your child's other parent must receive a copy. This is called serving court papers.

The other parent can then decide whether to participate in the case or not. If they don't, you can ask a judge to decide based on the information you provide in your court papers.

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