Child custody issues are involved in many family law cases. A court must address paternity, child custody, visitation, child support, and other child-related matters whenever parents file a court action. When parents are married, these issues are handled as part of a divorce, separation, or annulment. When parents are not and have never been married to each other, these issues are handled as part of a custody or paternity case.
The Court Process
When parents cannot agree on the paternity of a child or how to share custody of a child, either parent can ask the court to issue orders. When parents are married, custody issues are decided as part of a divorce, separation, or annulment. When parents are not married, either parent can File a Complaint for Custody / Paternity. The person who files the complaint is the "plaintiff" and the other parent is the "defendant." The complaint will say what orders the plaintiff would like, and the defendant can Respond to the Complaint by filing an "answer and counterclaim" stating what orders he or she would like. The judge may hold several hearings to sort out the issues, and if the parties do not eventually reach a full agreement, the judge will set a trial to decide the matters.
People often wonder how long the custody process will take. There is no easy answer to that question since all cases are different. If you and the other parent can agree to most or all of terms, the case can be finished fairly quickly. If you and the other parent cannot agree on very many things, you may have to go to court several times before the final order can be granted.
For a Nevada court to make any child custody and visitation orders, Nevada must be the “home state” of the children. This means that the children usually must have lived in Nevada for 6 months (or since birth if the child is not yet 6 months old) before the case is filed.
If the child left Nevada less than six months ago and a parent still lives in Nevada, Nevada may still be the “home state.” There are exceptions to this general rule. If you are unsure whether Nevada is the right state to handle child custody issues, you should talk to a lawyer. Visit Find Legal Help for more information.
When a man and woman are married and have a child, the husband is presumed to be the child’s father. When an unmarried couple has a child, paternity can be established through one of the following ways:
Sign a Voluntary Declaration of Paternity: If a mother and father agree that the man is the legal father of the child, they can sign a Declaration of Paternity. This is usually done at the hospital when the child is born. If not, both parents can sign the form in person at the Office of Vital Records or at the Southern Nevada Health District.
File at a Child Support Office: The Child Support Office can file a case to establish paternity and child support at no cost to either party. Their office does not handle custody or visitation matters. Visit the Child Support Office page for more information about the services they provide.
File a Complaint to Establish Custody / Paternity: Parents may file a case with the court to establish paternity. The judge can determine paternity based on DNA testing or other statutory presumptions. The court can also decide custody, visitation, and child support as part of the case.
Legal Custody (who makes decisions about the child)
Legal custody refers to the basic responsibility for a child and the parent’s ability to access information and make major decisions that affect the child, including the child’s healthcare, education, and religious upbringing. Parents automatically have joint legal custody rights to a child unless a court orders otherwise.
When a case comes to court, judges must generally award both parents joint legal custody so that both parents can make major decisions about the child. However, in some rare cases, one parent may be awarded sole legal custody so that only that parent will have the right to make major decisions concerning the child.
Physical Custody (where the child spends their time)
Physical custody refers to the amount of time the children spend with each parent. There are three different types of physical custody a judge can order:
Joint Physical Custody: This usually means that each parent has the children at least 40% of the time. This amounts to at least 146 days per calendar year. Parents automatically have joint physical custody rights to a child unless a court orders otherwise, and judges must generally award joint physical custody to both parents unless certain exceptions apply.
Primary Physical Custody: This usually means that one parent has the children more than 60% of the time during the year. The other parent will have “parenting time” or “visitation.”
Sole Physical Custody: This means that one parent has the children 100% of the time, and the other parent has no visitation or extremely limited visitation. This is not ordered very often.
If the parents cannot come to an agreement, the judge will set a trial and will decide custody based on the “best interest of the children.”
There are many factors that a judge will consider when deciding the best interest of the children. The factors come from NRS 125.480(4) and include:
- The wishes of the child if the child is of sufficient age and capacity to express an intelligent preference;
- Any nomination by a parent or a guardian for the child;
- Which parent is more likely to allow the child to have frequent associations and a continuing relationship with the noncustodial parent;
- The level of conflict between the parties;
- The ability of the parents to cooperate to meet the child’s needs;
- The mental and physical health of the parents;
- The nature of the relationship of the child with each parent;
- The physical, developmental and emotional needs of the child;
- The nature of the relationship of the child with each parent;
- The ability of the child to maintain a relationship with any sibling;
- Any history of parental abuse or neglect of the child or a sibling;
- Whether a parent has committed an act of domestic violence against the child, parent of the child, or person residing with the child;
- Whether the parent has committed an act of abduction against the child or a sibling.
A parent can ask the court to change the custody or visitation schedule any time after the final order if circumstances change. See Changing the Order for more information on how to change custody later.
Child support is set based on a percentage of the parents “gross monthly income.” Gross monthly income includes pre-tax income from all sources, including employment, tips, overtime, unemployment, and retirement. Each parent will have to provide the judge and the other parent with a financial statement, paystubs, and possibly prior tax returns so each parent’s income can be determined.
If you only want to get a child support order in place and do not want to address custody and visitation issues, contact your local Child Support Office. They can help with establishing and collecting child support.
You can download the following worksheet to estimate child support, or you can use the Nevada Child support Guidelines Calculator to estimate support.
Child Support Worksheet (pdf fillable)
Child Support Worksheet for a Joint Petition for Divorce (pdf fillable)
Child support generally lasts until the child reaches 18, or 19 if the child is still enrolled in high school. Child support can be changed later if needed. See Changing the Order for more information on how to change child support later.
Health Insurance & Medical Expenses
The judge must order one or both parents to provide health insurance for the children. The cost of any insurance premiums may affect the total amount of child support paid.
Unreimbursed medical expenses (such as copays and costs not covered by insurance) are typically paid equally by both parents. One parent may be ordered to pay the medical expenses in some cases.