A child custody petition is a legal call, initiated by the other parent or a legal guardian of the child, to change or limit custody rights. The one who files a custody petition, called the petitioner, is usually applying for sole custody of minor children. You, as the respondent, have a duty to reply to this petition and defend your right to joint or sole custody. In Maryland, if you've been served the petition in the traditional way, you have 20 days to respond. If you've been served the petition out of state or by mail, you will have 60 to 90 days to respond, depending upon the circumstances. You can represent yourself in this case, though you may want to consider hiring a lawyer to represent you.
Obtain a form Dom.Rel.50, which is the respondent form for a child custody petition. This form can be downloaded online at courts.state.md or by clicking on the third link in the references box below.
Fill in the form accurately. Use the custody petition you were served with to provide the court and case number, the name of the petitioner exactly as it appears on the petition and the current addresses and telephone numbers for both of you.
Answer lines 1 through 12 accurately and do not leave anything blank. Use line 13 to provide any evidence you believe would be useful to your case. Use a clean sheet of paper to continue if you run out of room. Do not write on the back of the form.
Include a financial statement for alimony or child support, if applicable. These are forms Dom.Rel.30 and 31 and can be downloaded at courts.state.md or by clicking on the last link below.
File your forms with the clerk of court. Make three copies of your forms: one for yourself, one for the court and one for the petitioner. You must mail the third copy to the petitioner or, if that person has a lawyer, to his or her legal counsel.
Hire a lawyer if you believe you are in serious danger of losing custody rights of your children.
- paperwork image by Pix by Marti from Fotolia.com