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.

Visit the sections below to learn more about these common issues:

Courtroom bw The Court Process

Taking Oath bw Paternity

Parenting Plan bw Custody & Visitation

Higher fees bw Child Support, Health Insurance & Medical Expenses


Courtroom bw The Court Process

Is Nevada the right place to file? A Nevada court can make child custody and visitation orders if Nevada is 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

How does a case start?

  • When parents are married, custody issues are decided as part of a divorce, separation, or annulment.  
  • If the parents are not married to each other and are in 100% agreement to all the issues, they can File for Custody Together.  This requires both parents to fill out some forms and sign them in front of a notary.  It usually avoids a court date, and is the quickest way to get a custody order.  
  • When parents are not married to each other and cannot agree, 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 stating what orders he or she would like.  

How long will my case 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. 


Taking Oath bw Paternity

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.


Parenting Plan bw Custody & Visitation

There are two different kinds of custody that will be decided as part of a custody case.  "Legal custody" refers to the power to make major decisions affecting the child, such as healthcare decisions, schooling decisions, and religious training, plus the ability to access documents and records for the child.  "Physical custody" refers to the amount of time the children spend with each parent. 

If there is no court order, parents automatically have joint legal and joint physical custody rights to a child unless a court orders otherwise.

Legal Custody (who makes decisions about the child)

There are two kinds of legal custody:

Joint Legal Custody:  Judges generally must award both parents joint legal custody so that both parents can make major decisions about the child.  

Sole Legal Custody:  This gives one parent the right make major decisions concerning the child.  This is not ordered very often.

Physical Custody (where the child spends their time)

There are two different types of physical custody a judge can order:

Joint Physical Custody: Each parent has the children at least 40% of the time.  Judges must generally award joint physical custody to both parents unless certain exceptions apply.

Primary Physical Custody: One parent has the children more than 60% of the time during the year. The other parent will have “parenting time” or “visitation.”

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 125C.0035(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.


Higher fees bw Child Support, Health Insurance, and Medical Expenses

There will be several financial orders included with the custody order, such as child support, insurance requirements, and payment of medical expenses. 

Child Support

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 use the DIY Child Support Calculator to determine what child support could be based on both parties' incomes and the number of children.  You can also use the following worksheets below to estimate child 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 make sure the the children have health insurance, either through public or private insurance. The judge can divide the costs for any premiums paid for insurance if needed.

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. 

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.

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