For those parents who are not married, and realize that they need custody and visitation orders made, the Superior Courts of California can help. Simply put, California Superior Courts, specifically the Family Law Division, can make orders for custody and visitation for parents of minor children who are not married.

Contrary to common misconception, the process for un-married parents to obtain custody and visitation orders though the family law courts in California is a streamlined process. While there can be some variables, such as in contested cases (custody battles), the court process can potentially get parents from filing their custody petition, to custody and visitation orders in as little as 6 weeks in some cases.

If both parents are working together and can come to an agreement about the orders they want in place, court hearings are not a requirement in most California courts. A formal petition is still filed with the court, the documents are served on the other parent and a required 30 day wait period is given to the other parent to review and respond if they choose to do so. When the parents are in agreement, the other parent (Respondent) can participate in the process without being required to file a response and paying another firs appearance fee. After the 30 day waiting period, the required forms for a custody and visitation judgment can be submitted. Once signed by the Judge and filed by the court, the orders for custody and visitation become effective immediately. Each party will get a copy from the court by mail.

Adversely, those who cannot come to an agreement and need the assistance of the court mediator and Judge to make a formal ruling can request the court set hearings to do so. When requesting a hearing for custody and visitation, the court will often send the parties first to mediation. The mediation team at the court are family counselors who work with the parents to try to work out a parenting plan. If they can come to terms the parents likely sign an agreement, visit court a week or so later for their hearing, and typically the Judge will sign that agreement, making it an order. For parents who cannot come to an agreement, the mediation team will submit a recommendation to the Judge, and at that hearing a few weeks later the Judge will factor in all relevant information to make an order. In cases of extreme circumstances and conflict, the process will get more complicated.

The third common option to obtain custody and visitation orders for un-married parents is known as a “Default Judgment” by the court. In this process the initial petitions and requests are filed as in all custody cases, the other parent is served and given 30 days to respond or contest the case. If the other parent does not file a response within those 30 days, the petitioner can file the judgment for custody and visitation orders at the court. Essentially these documents are telling the court that the other parent did not respond and asking the court to enter the orders originally requested on the case, following state guidelines.  These default judgments without agreements usually take longer to process before the judgment is filed. After the Judge signs and the judgment is filed , the documents will be returned to both parties in the mail. A court hearing/appearance is also not required for this process.

While preparing to initiate the process to obtain custody and visitation orders may seem overwhelming, a professional Legal Document Assistant service can help people prepare, file, serve and even complete the final judgment (orders). Since Legal Document Assistants are not attorneys and do not represent people in court they can offer the document preparation services at a fraction of the cost of a traditional attorney service. If you are ready to start a custody proceeding, consider a legal document assistant to help. You can learn more about our custody document preparation here.