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If it says I am the custodial parent on child support papers, does that mean I have sole custody by law?

San Diego, CA |

My husband left 5 years ago, we never filed for divorce or separation, I never see him, we have a son and a child support case was opened in 2005 by the welfare office (he left us with nothing) listing me as the custodial parent, we never went to court for custody or visitation either. He does not see my son and my son knows him by name only. He is 6 years old now. I want to move out of state to better our lives, but I thought I'd have to file for divorce and custody first. Does me being listed as the custodial parent mean that I already have sole custody? Do I even need to file for custody?

Attorney Answers 2

  1. The fact that you are listed as the "custodial parent" in a child support case does NOT mean that you have sole legal custody; it only means that FOR PURPOSES OF CALCULATING SUPPORT, the court found, or assumed, that you had the child(ren) in your care and control most of the time.

    You can file for divorce, and for a custody order, before you leave California, or IF THERE"s NEVER BEEN ANY CUSTODY ORDER IN CALIFORNIA can wait until you've been in the new state long enough to file a custody proceeding there. That will NEVER be less than six months, and depending on the laws of the state to which you move, may be longer; you should check with an attorney IN THAT STATE.

    If your ex should file a divorce or custody case in California BEFORE that time has run, you would then probably be stuck having the custody case heard in California. You should speak both to a California attorney and to a family law attorney in the state to which you plan to move. There may be significant differences in custody laws which you need to know about to make your best decision.

  2. Mr. Gould-Saltman's answer is excellent. I would only add that you are free to travel or move in the United States with your child as you see fit, absent a court order stating otherwise.