Child Custody Filing Process

 

STEP 1 – FILLING OUT THE DOCUMENTS

You must complete the following documents:

  1. Domestic Civil Action Cover Sheet
  2. Civil Summons
¨Complaint

  3. Verification

Please note that the last page of the Complaint needs to be signed in the presence of a Notary Public.

 

STEP 2 – FILING THE DOCUMENTS

Take these documents, 3 copies, the filing fee and the $15.00 fee per defendant served (if you elect to have the Mecklenburg County Sheriff serve the documents) to the Civil Filing Department (832 E. Fourth St., Room 3725). Copies can be made for a fee in the Civil Files Office. The clerk will file your documents.  At that time, you will be assigned a case number.  Please make a note of this case number as it should be placed in the upper right hand corner of all subsequent documents in the case.

 

STEP 3 – OBTAINING DATES, FURTHER INFORMATION ETC…

Once you have filed your documents with the Civil Filing Department, you should proceed to the Family Court Office (Room 3520) to obtain a Notice for Front-End Status Conference and an Order for Parent Education Class.  The notice will include a date, time, and location for the Parent Education Class. The notice and order need to be filed in the Civil Filing Department, 3725, and served upon the defendant.

At your status conference, a Family Court Case Manager will review the case to make sure that service of process has been completed successfully and will then schedule the next court event.  PLEASE MAKE SURE THAT YOUR CORRECT MAILING ADDRESS IS IN THE FILE, AS WELL AS THE CORRECT ADDRESS FOR THE DEFENDANT.  Please also note that if your case is referred to Mediation, your claim may be resolved there.  If a signed parenting agreement is reached in mediation, you will not need to be given a hearing date.

ATTENTION: PLEASE NOTE THAT IN MECKLENBURG COUNTY, IT IS MANDATORY THAT ALL PARTIES COMPLETE A PARENT EDUCATION COURSE AND PARTICIPATE IN CUSTODY MEDIATION UNLESS THE JUDGE FINDS GOOD CAUSE OTHERWISE.  FAILURE TO ATTEND COULD RESULT IN CONTEMPT AND A MONETARY FINE.

 

STEP 4 – SERVICE OF PROCESS

North Carolina General Statutes require that you give notice to the defendant about the filing of your claim.  This is known as “Service of Process.”  The correct way to serve the defendant is determined by law.  If the documents are not correctly served on the defendant, the court will not hear your case.

PLEASE READ THIS SECTION VERY CAREFULLY.
If you have concerns or are confused, consult with an attorney immediately!

In order for your case to be binding against the Defendant, he/she must be given notice of the case, or served in a manner that is recognized by the court.  PLEASE NOTE that service of process must be completed successfully for your case to proceed and avoid dismissal. This means that if you have the sheriff serve the documents, IT IS YOUR RESPONSIBILITY to follow up and make sure service was completed.  If you serve by certified or registered mail, YOU MUST file the Affidavit of Service of Process by Registered or Certified Mail found in your packet along with the green return-receipt card you receive in the mail.  The forms needed for Service of Process and the procedures you must follow are complex and will vary.  In order to learn which steps to take next, review the following and choose the correct forms and procedures for your case:

Available Methods for Service of Process:

 

  1. Service of Process by the Sheriff:

    If the Defendant lives in North Carolina and will not accept service of process, you will need to pay a $15.00 service fee per party served to the sheriff in the county where he/she resides to serve the papers.

    If Defendant lives in Mecklenburg County:

    Take the Civil Summons and Complaint to the Clerk’s Office, Room 3725, when you file for custody/visitation/support.  The summons should include the most recent address of the Defendant and any other information that will help the sheriff’s office locate him/her. These will be stamped and filed by the clerk.  The Clerk’s office may deliver the documents to the sheriff for you.  Sometimes, you must take the stamped documents (Summons and Complaint) and the fifteen dollar payment to the sheriff (700 East Fourth St. Charlotte, NC 28202). In either case, be sure to keep a copy of these documents.

    After delivering these documents to the sheriff, he/she will keep a copy of the summons detailing how the Complaint and Summons were delivered to the Defendant.  The sheriff’s deputy will then file this information with the clerk of court.

    In order to find out if the sheriff was successful or unsuccessful in attempting to serve the Defendant, you must check in person with the Clerk of Court (Room 3725). You may also call the Mecklenburg Sheriff’s Office at 704-336-2543 to determine if service was successful.

    If Defendant DOES NOT live in Mecklenburg County:

    If the Defendant does not live in Mecklenburg County, you must mail or deliver the Summons and Complaint to the sheriff in the county where he/she is located. The Summons should include the most recent address of the Defendant and any other information that will help the sheriff’s office locate him/her. You should include a certified check or money order for the fee for service made payable to the sheriff of that county.  Contact the sheriff’s office in the county where the Defendant  is located to determine the fees and process associated with service of process.

    If you wish to send your paperwork to the sheriff’s office to be served, you should send it by certified mail return receipt requested to provide evidence that your service request was received.

    In order to find out if the sheriff was successful or unsuccessful in attempting to serve the Defendant, you must check in person with the clerk of court (Room 3725). You may also be able to contact the sheriff’s office over the phone to confirm whether or not service was successful.

  2. Service of Process by Certified or Registered Mail:

    Service of Process by certified or registered mail can be completed within the state and outside of the state, but within the US (please consult with an attorney if the Defendant is in the military or lives in another country) by mailing a copy of the Summons and Complaint by registered or certified mail, return receipt requested, addressed to the Defendant and delivered to his/her address (or the address of the location where he/she can be contacted by mail).  A postal worker can help you fill out the necessary forms registered or certified mailing.  If you choose this type of service, you must file an Affidavit of Service of Process by Certified or Registered Mail when you receive the return receipt (the “green card”).You must attach the original return receipt to your affidavit.

    The Affidavit of Service must be taken to and signed in the presence of a Notary Public. There is a Notary Public in the Sheriff’s Office on the first floor of the Mecklenburg County Courthouse.

  3. Service of Process by Publication:

    You Do NOT Know Where the Defendant Is: (THIS SHOULD BE YOUR LAST RESORT)

    If you do not know where the Defendant is located, you will need to serve him/her by “publication.”  If you know where the Defendant is or can find out his/her address, this process should not be used.  Publication is a complex process using the newspaper to run notice of the divorce.  You should speak to an attorney regarding this type of service. You can find a list of available attorneys and their fees at the SelfServe office (Room 3350).

    Lawyer Referral Services:
    
Mecklenburg County Bar Lawyer Referral Service: (704) 375-0120 or www.meckbar.org
    North Carolina Lawyer Referral Service: (800) 662-7660

 

STEP 5 – ATTENDANCE

Be sure to attend all scheduled court events on time and dressed appropriately (as if you were going to a job interview).  This is very important.