What is the difference between "legal custody" and "physical custody?"

These are two different types of custody that are awarded in every custody case.  "Legal custody" refers to the power to make major decisions affecting the child, such as healthcare decisions, schooling decisions, and religious training.  "Physical custody" refers to the amount of time the children spend with each parent.   You can learn more about these types of custody and the variations of each on the Overview of Custody page.

How do I establish "father's rights?"

There are two common ways to establish a man as the father of the child. The first is by signing a "Voluntary Declaration of Paternity," which is often done at the hospital right after the child's birth.  If it wasn't signed at the hospital, both parents can sign the form later in person at the Office of Vital Records or at the Southern Nevada Health District.  A new birth certificate can then be issued with the father's name listed.

If that is not an option, either parent can File a Complaint for Custody and/or Paternity and ask a court to declare a man as the father of a child.

I have a DNA test that proves I am not the father. How do I get my name off of the birth certificate and/or stop child support?

Once paternity has been established, either by a court order or through the Voluntary Declaration of Paternity, it is not so easy to remove a man as a child's legal father, even with a DNA test.  Typically, the man must prove to a judge that the other person fraudulently led the man to believe that he was the father. 

Either parent can File a Complaint for Custody and/or Paternity and ask the court to "undo" paternity if appropriate.

The mother and father were never married. Doesn't this mean the mother has sole custody and the father has no rights?

No.  Parents have equal rights to a child whether or not they are married.  The law automatically gives both parents joint legal custody and joint physical custody of a child unless otherwise ordered by a court. 

The mother and father live in different states. Where do I file for custody?

Custody and visitation matters are typically decided in the state where the child has lived for the past 6 months, or since birth if the child is younger than 6 months.  There are some exceptions to this general rule.  If you are not sure what state you should file in, you are encouraged to consult with an attorney.  You can find information on where to find an attorney on the Find Legal Help page.

How does the judge decide who will get custody of the children?

There is a legal preference to award parents joint physical custody unless certain exceptions exist.

The judge decides custody based on the "best interest of the child."  There are many factors listed in NRS 125C.0035 that a judge must consider when determining the best interest of the child.  If the parents cannot agree on custody, the judge will hold a trial where both parents can present witnesses and evidence that relate to these factors.  The judge will then weigh all of the evidence and decide what custody arrangement would be in the child's best interest. 

Does the child get to decide which parent to live with?

No.  Judges may consider the wishes of children who are old enough and mature enough to express a preference.  But ultimately, the judge decides custody issues when the parents cannot agree.

My child wants to talk to the judge. Can I bring the child to court? Can the child write a letter to the judge?

No.  Children should never come to court or write letters to the judge unless the judge has expressly authorized it.   

The judge can, however, interview a child (outside of court) if the judge wants to hear from the child.  If ordered, this would be done on a different day from the court hearing.  Do not bring the child to court.

I want to move away with the child. What do I need to do?

A parent needs permission to move with the children either out of Nevada or to a place inside Nevada that is so far away it would seriously harm the other parent's ability to maintain a relationship with the child.  The moving parent must first talk to the other parent and see if he or she will agree to the move in writing.  If so, the parents can sign a stipulation allowing the move, which must also be signed by the judge and entered in your case as an order. 

If the other parent will not agree to the move, the parent can file a motion in the divorce or custody case asking the judge for permission to move with the children.  The other parent can file a written response, and the judge will make a decision.  A trial might be needed. You can find the forms and information for this process on the How to Change an Order and/or Relocate page.

The court issued a custody order but my ex will not follow the visitation schedule. What can I do to see my child?

You can file a motion to re-open your divorce or custody case and explain in writing what the other person is doing to violate the order.  The other person can file a response, and the judge makes a decision.  You can find information about this on the Contempt page.

How do I change the custody or visitation order?

If you and the other parent agree to the changes you would like to make, you can sign a stipulation and order outlining the new custody and visitation agreement.  This is provided to your judge to sign, and becomes the new court order.

If you do not agree on the changes, one parent can re-open a divorce or custody case and file a motion to change custody and/or visitation.  This requires both parents to file papers explaining to the judge what changes you would like to make and why, and then a judge will decide what changes, if any, to make.  Judges do not change custody orders lightly; there are specific legal requirements you will have to show before a judge will change the custody order.  You can find the forms and information about this process on the How to Change an Order page.

Who gets to claim the child as a dependent on their taxes?

The judge can determine which parent will claim the child on their taxes each year.  Check your custody order to see if the order says who will claim the child each year.  If the order does not say, then the IRS regulations apply.  Check with a tax professional to find out which parent is allowed to claim the child under the IRS regulations.

About This Website

This website is intended to provide general information, forms, and resources for people who are representing themselves in Nevada's courts without a lawyer. There may be additional information you need to know depending on where your case is being handled. If you will be representing yourself in Clark County or Washoe County, you should visit those self-help websites for specialized forms and instructions.