Assuming the parents can’t agree on custody, one of the parents will file a Request for Order: FL-300. The parent commencing the action is known as the Petitioner and the other parent becomes the Respondent. The Petitioner will attach a declaration to the FL-300, which states, under penalty of perjury, the reasons why the Petitioner thinks the Respondent should have less or no custody. Pursuant to California Code of Civil Procedure 1005 (b), the Petitioner must then personally serve the Respondent at least 16 court days before the hearing.
After being served, the Respondent can file a response using a Responsive Declaration To Request for Order: FL – 320. The Respondent must then file and serve those papers pursuant to C.C.P. 1005 (b), which states that “All papers opposing a motion so noticed shall be filed with the court and a copy served on each party at least nine court days, and all reply papers at least five court days before the hearing.”
While the exact steps differ per case, certain events may occur if the parents cannot reach a settlement. First, the parties will go to court. At this point, the court will assign a hearing date. The initial date given by the court is more of a placeholder. When the case is actually heard depends greatly on the complexity of the case. If the matter involves experts, multiple witness, and extensive discovery, the hearing might not take place for a significant period of time.
The next phase typically involves discovery. The discovery phase could involve a 730 custody evaluation, depositions, and pursuant to C.C.P. § 2025.220, that you produce personal documents relevant to the action at the time of deposition. Examples of personal documents often requested includes, but is not limited to, calendars, emails, and financial statements.
This phase can be stressful, as California Code of Civil Procedure § 2017.010 allows for discovery of anything, not protected by privilege, that is “that is relevant to the subject matter involved in the pending action or to the determination of any motion made in that action, if the matter either is itself admissible in evidence or appears reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence.”
Whether you’re the respondent or petitioner, you should consider hiring an experienced child custody attorney to assist you.