How To Find Out Who Has Custody of a Child

Custody is often a simple matter at the beginning of a child's life. Except in cases of surrogacy, the birth mother has custody when a child is born. Whether she shares custody with anyone depends on marriage and paternity:

  • If she's married, she automatically shares custody with her spouse.
  • If she's not married, she has sole legal custody and sole physical custody until the government recognizes a second legal parent. It does this when the two parents sign a form together (the birth certificate, in some states) or when a DNA test proves paternity.

But custody can change. When it changes, adults need a way to find out the status.

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How to find out who will have custody if you're separating

If you are separating from your child's other custodial parent, you need to decide how you'll continue to share custody. This requires opening a court case.

If you agree, put the details into a parenting plan and have it approved as a court order. Mediation and other alternative dispute resolution methods can help you agree.

Some parents can't agree and have to take their court case to trial, where both parents present arguments to a judge. At the end of the proceedings, the judge will issue a custody order, providing the final answer.

To request extra copies of your court order at a later date, it may help to know the case number.

In the future, you and your spouse can adjust the custody order by mutual agreement, or, if necessary, you can return to court.

How to find out who has custody if you're not the parent

In general, custody orders are public records. That means anyone may view them. It may help to know some details of the court case, such as the date and location. The court may offer a way to request the information online.

It is likely that you will only be able to view the final order. Additional supporting details presented during trial may not be public.

Why other people sometimes need to know who has custody

Schools typically ask for a copy of each child's birth certificate, which names the parents. The school allows either parent to make educational decisions for the child — the parents' marital status does not matter. However, if only one parent can make those decisions, the school will need that custody update.

Schools may also need to be aware of an ongoing custody dispute. This is especially true when a court has issued a protective order (also known as a restraining order). School staff may need to know if, for example, the noncustodial parent isn't allowed to contact the child. It may be able to prevent or report those interactions on campus.

Extended family members may also need to discover who has custody. This may be relevant when they are caring for a child and need to make decisions about school or healthcare. If they seek custody of the child, that is another reason for them to learn the current status.

The tools you need to seek custody

The Custody X Change app helps you organize evidence so you can seek custody and secure your child's future. It helps you:

Use Custody X Change to stay organized and get what's best for your child.

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Long distance schedules

Third party schedules


Summer break

Parenting provisions


How to make a schedule

Factors to consider

Parenting plans:

Making a parenting plan

Changing your plan

Interstate, long distance

Temporary plans

Guides by location:

Parenting plans

Scheduling guidelines

Child support calculators

Age guidelines:

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18 months to 3 years

3 to 5 years

5 to 13 years

13 to 18 years


Joint physical custody

Sole physical custody

Joint legal custody

Sole legal custody

Product features:

Software overview

Printable calendars

Parenting plan templates

Journal what happens

Expense sharing

Parenting time tracking

Calculate time & overnights

Ways to use:

Succeed by negotiating

Prepare for mediation

Get ready for court


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