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Legal Information: District of Columbia


Laws current as of
April 5, 2024

What are the steps for filing for custody?

The specific steps for filing for custody vary, depending on your particular situation.

Usually, if you and the other parent are going through a divorce, you can request custody as part of the divorce complaint.  Custody will be decided during the divorce either through settlement negotiations between the parents, or if the parents can’t agree, by the judge at a hearing if you or the other parent asks the judge to make a decision.

If you and the other parent were never married or you are currently married but you aren’t getting a divorce, either parent can petition (ask) the court for custody.  To file for custody, you will need to draft (write) paperwork asking the court for custody.  You will then need to turn in that paperwork to the court, along with money to pay a filing fee.  If you cannot afford the filing fee, you may be able to request a fee waiver.  Once you have turned in your paperwork and your filing fee (or fee waiver if eligible), you may be assigned a date to:

  • return to court for a hearing in front of a judge;
  • go to mediation with the other parent; or
  • take other steps in your custody case, such as attending a parenting education course that is offered by the court.

Custody matters are often complicated.  If you can get a lawyer to draft the paperwork for you, represent you, and/or give you legal advice, it might help to make sure your legal rights are protected.  You will find a list of legal resources on our DC Finding a Lawyer page.