Filing for Child Custody in New York: 5 Steps

Before you open a court case, consider all your options for deciding custody:

  • You can settle with the other parent and have a judge sign an order with the terms of your agreement.
  • For help reaching an agreement, you may try an alternative dispute resolution method, such as mediation, collaborative law or just negotiation.
  • The remaining option is, of course, litigating in court.

In any of these situations, one parent will need to open a case.

Custody X Change is software that creates parenting plans and schedules you can file with the court.

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It's a very good idea to have a lawyer do this for you because the process is complicated — if you don't need them to also represent you in court, they may charge you a low, flat fee.

If you choose to go without a lawyer, either parent can follow the steps below to open a case.

While anyone who plays a pivotal role in a child's life may request custody, this article addresses parents primarily. Nonparents must show that extraordinary circumstances require them to get custody.

Step 1: Determine your court and type of case

First, determine if you'll file in family court or supreme court.

Parents seeking divorce open a case in supreme court. They can choose to resolve custody as part of their divorce, or they can file a separate custody case in family court, which moves faster. (To file for divorce, you must meet the residency requirement.)

Paternity cases, domestic violence cases and custody petitions go through family court (unless they're handled as part of a divorce).

Cases are considered contested when parents disagree on one or more terms. In an uncontested case, parents agree on all terms.

Step 2: Complete your forms

Fill out all forms with black ink. If you're typing, use double-spacing. And if you're printing documents, make them single-sided. People representing themselves should list their own contact information instead of an attorney's.

If your case is in family court...

Complete General Form 17 to petition for custody or visitation.

Check the box beside:

  • Article 4 if you're asking for child support
  • Article 5 if you're asking the court to name a legal biological father
  • Article 6 if you're asking for custody or visitation

This tells the court which article of the Family Court Act applies to your case.

Note that the petitioner is the person filing and the respondent is the other parent (or whomever the petition is against).

You may attach a proposed or agreed-on parenting plan now or submit one later.

If necessary, you can request a temporary protection order. Attach photos or other evidence.

If disclosing your address or other identifying information would pose a risk to you or your child, complete an Address Confidentiality Affidavit.

If your case is in supreme court...

If you've agreed on all divorce terms, your paperwork depends on your location:

When parents don't agree on the terms of their divorce, New York doesn't make it easy for them to open a case without a lawyer. You may use the following documents and ask your court if it requires others — but things will be much easier if you use a lawyer.

In all divorces, the person filing is the plaintiff and their spouse is the defendant.

Leave any spaces labeled index number blank for now.

If you can't afford filing fees, fill out a fee waiver application along with a Notice of Motion, and attach a sworn affidavit explaining your finances. Contact your court to find out what specifically should go in your affidavit and what proof of income, if any, is necessary.

Step 3: Finalize your paperwork

Make two additional copies of all your paperwork. Then take your documents to a notary. They should notarize any affidavits and any forms with a section for notarization.

Step 4: Turn in your paperwork

Many courts allow electronic filing. If yours does, you can e-file your forms to start your case.

If your case is in family court...

There are no filing fees in family court.

Unless you're filing online, take your documents to the family court clerk. They'll stamp the papers with a file number for your case, then keep one copy and return the others to you.

If your case is in supreme court...

You'll have to pay $210 to file your index number application. There's an additional $35 fee if you're settling.

Unless you're filing online, take your documents to the county clerk. The clerk will stamp them with your index number, keep one copy and return the others to you.

Step 5: Serve the other parent

Service is the process of formally notifying the other parent that you've opened a case. The server delivers copies of the papers you've filed to the defendant or respondent. If you filed your case online, they should also deliver a Notice of E-Filing.

Unless the judge gives you permission, you cannot serve the other parent yourself. Instead, you can ask a nonrelative, or you can hire the local sheriff or a process server. Whomever you choose, they must be a New York resident who is at least 18.

Be sure to follow the many rules for service and have the server file a notarized affidavit with the court afterward.

If your case is in family court...

Service must occur at least eight days before the other parent needs to be in court.

Ask your court if it has any special requirements. For example, some counties require a sheriff to serve.

This is the last step in your filing. You and the respondent will both receive a summons in the mail stating when and where to report for your next appearance.

If your case is in supreme court...

The defendant must be served with dated copies of either the Summons with Notice or both the Summons and the Complaint within 120 days of the initial filing.

The defendant has 20 days to respond (30 days if served outside of New York state or not in person).

Information for respondents and defendants

Respondents (family court)

If you receive a custody petition, you should file an answer or a cross-petition. If you don't, any allegations in the original petition can be deemed admitted.

An answer responds to allegations the other parent made and states any counterclaims you have for custody. A cross-petition is similar but ensures the other parent can't withdraw the case. Unlike an answer, it costs about $200 to file.

File either document with the family court listed on your paperwork. You must serve the paperwork to the other parent, and the server must complete and file the appropriate affidavit.

Defendants (supreme court)

If you were served a Summons and a Complaint, you must file an answer and a Notice of Appearance and Demand within the next 20 days.

If you were served a Summons with Notice and don't want to contest any of the terms, fill out the Affidavit of Defendant and have it notarized. Be careful not to date the affidavit earlier than the date of your summons.

If you were served a Summons with Notice and want to contest, you have 20 days to file a Notice of Appearance and Demand. After you receive a Complaint from your spouse, you have another 20 days to file an answer.

Since there's no template for an answer, it's best to hire a lawyer to write yours.

File your forms with the county clerk at the courthouse and serve your spouse. The server should fill out the relevant affidavit showing that service took place, sign it in front of a notary, and file it with the county clerk.

Additional help with your filing

If you do not have an attorney, consider contacting a legal clinic to ensure your paperwork is completed correctly. Legal clinics can be found through law schools or the legal aid society in your area.

Preparing for what comes next

Once you file all your paperwork, your case will be slotted for review.

In an uncontested case, a judge will sign your final orders to close your case, as long as they consider it to be in your child's best interest.

In a contested case, you'll be scheduled for an appearance or conference. Take advantage of technology to be fully prepared.

The Custody X Change online app offers custom custody calendars, parent-to-parent messaging, an expense tracker and more.

You can use the app in many ways in New York: to put together proposals for the other parent, prepare settlement paperwork or organize evidence.

Be prepared for every step of your case with Custody X Change.

Custody X Change is software that creates parenting plans and schedules you can file with the court.

Make My New York Plan Now

Custody X Change is software that creates parenting plans and schedules you can file with the court.

Make My Plan

Custody X Change is software that creates parenting plans and schedules you can file with the court.

Make My New York Plan Now

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