What Petitions Can Be Filed in Family Court?

When you file a petition, the court assigns you a case number and issues a summons for the other party to respond. Many types of petitions exist to start different family court cases, including the ones described below.

Petition for Dissolution of Marriage

To end your marriage, you need to file a petition for dissolution (or a divorce petition). Include information about you and your spouse, the grounds for divorce, and the specific requests you’re making (a name change, spousal support, or temporary orders for child custody and support).

Then pay the filing fee or request a fee waiver. The court issues a summons for your spouse to respond. Then, you hire a process server to serve the petition on your spouse. Your spouse will have to respond to your petition within a specific period.

Petition for Legal Separation

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Some couples choose to pursue legal separation instead of divorce. You might want to legally separate from your spouse as a trial run before you decide to divorce. You might also have financial or religious reasons for remaining married while living separately.

To be legally separated from your spouse, file a petition for legal separation. This document includes the same information as a divorce petition and must be properly served on your spouse. Once the court grants your petition, you’ll still be married and won’t be able to marry someone else until you get a full divorce.

Petition for Annulment

The grounds for annulment vary from state to state. However, the following are grounds in most states:

  • Incestuous marriage
  • Misrepresentation or fraud
  • Bigamy
  • Marriage never consummated
  • One spouse too young to have validly consented
  • Force, coercion, or duress
  • Unsound mind due to intoxication at the time of the marriage

To be granted an annulment, you must prove one of your state’s grounds. You file a petition for annulment and pay the filing fee. Your petition gets served on your spouse, and the court gives him or her time to respond. If you succeed in getting an annulment, your marriage will be deemed to have not existed.

Petition to Dissolve a Civil Union or Registered Domestic Partnership

If you have registered a civil union or domestic partnership with your state or county, you can dissolve it at the end of your relationship. File a petition to dissolve a civil union or domestic partnership with the court and have the petition served on your partner. The petition can allow you to ask the court to divide your property and make decisions about child custody and support matters.

Petition to Establish Paternity

When a child is born to unmarried parents, the male partner is not immediately assumed to be the biological parent. In some states, paternity is established by signing the birth certificate or filing an acknowledgment of paternity with the state. Other states require the court’s intervention.

For example, if a child’s mother wants to pursue child support from an unmarried father, she needs to establish his paternity before that can be ordered. If he didn’t sign the birth certificate and refuses to acknowledge paternity, the mother can file a petition to establish paternity in court.

The judge then orders the man and the child to submit to DNA testing. If the DNA test confirms paternity, the court then orders him to pay child support. Men can also file a petition to establish paternity to pursue their constitutional rights as parents, including custody, support, and visitation.

Petition for Child Custody and Support

Unmarried parents can seek a custody order from the court using a petition for child custody and support. In this type of petition, you provide information about yourself, your child, and the child’s other parent. You also need to include your proposed parenting plan and visitation schedule.

A child custody and support order allows you to determine who will have the legal decision-making authority on behalf of your child for education, health, and religion. Once the petition is served on the other parent, he or she then has a chance to respond and submit his or her own proposed parenting plan.

Petition for Adoption

If you want to legally adopt a child, file a petition for adoption with the family court. This petition is normally filed when adoption will occur between family members. This document tells the court about the child and the parents who wish to adopt.

The parent who’s being replaced by the adoptive parents either needs to consent to his or her rights being terminated or have had them already terminated by the state. After filing with the court, a copy must be given to the child welfare agency in your state.

Petition to Terminate Parental Rights

This petition happens when a step-parent wants to adopt his or her step-child. It terminates the rights of the biological parent involuntarily. The petition needs to be served on that parent, and he or she is given a chance to respond. The court might terminate a parent’s rights involuntarily when the child’s biological parent is unfit or has abandoned the child.

Starting legal actions in family court begins by filing a petition for the particular type of case you want to open. When you file a petition and properly serve it on the other party, your family court case commences.

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September 19, 2023 6:20 pm

Should I file a petition to allow me to return to martial property while the case is pending related to that property?

Jeffrey Allen Ray
November 29, 2023 10:12 pm

Filing a petition for child paternity in family court so I can get acknowledged as child’s biological father bc they’re trying to terminate child mother parental rights she’s been working with dcs and has a court appointed lawyer helping fight the termination of her rights but i need attorney who can help me and me and child’s mother are in relationship and live together for 10 years now the issue is that she was legally married to someone who refused sign the divorce papers but he recently March 2023 passed away and DhR department of human services still won’t acknowledge me and I have said that I would pay for the paternity test myself

Debra Robinson
January 24, 2024 4:19 pm

How can an adult find out if their step parent legally adopted them?