Child Custody / Visitation / Divorce

Child Custody / Visitation / Divorce

How to Get Help

Legal Aid Society of San Diego welcomes walk-ins.  For faster service call 1-877-LEGAL AID (1-877-534-2524).
TTY 1-800-735-2929​
If you wish to come to an office, we have 3 locations:
Southeast San Diego Office
Midtown San Diego Office
North County San Diego Office

What We Do

We provide help with family law problems.  We may represent people in dissolution (divorce) or paternity cases when there are child custody issues.  Our top priority is representation of a parent who has ongoing primary physical custody of their child. We can sometimes represent a parent whose court ordered visitation has been frustrated by the other parent.

Unfortunately, we do not have the resources to help with all family law needs.

  • We cannot help fill out forms.  
  • We do not represent anyone in court if only support or property issues remain.  
  • We cannot help if the case is already 18 months old, and there is no judgment.  
  • We do not take enforcement of judgment or contempt cases.  
  • If your case is in another county, we cannot take the case there, but we will try to refer you to a local legal aid in that county.

Other Places to Get Help

Helpful Information About Family Law


  • What is the difference between a divorce and legal separation?
    • A divorce ends a marriage. When a judge says the divorce is final, both spouses become single & they can get married again.
    • A legal separation does not end a marriage. When a judge says the legal separation is final, the spouses are still married and they are not allowed to marry others.
  • What are the similarities between a divorce and legal separation?
    • Whether you are filing for a divorce or legal separation, you can ask the court to make orders on custody/visitation, child support, spousal support, division of property and debts.
  • Are there any requirements in filing for divorce or legal separation?
    • If you are filing for divorce, you must have lived in the state of California for at least 6 months and in the county of San Diego for at least 3 months before filing for divorce. This is called the residency requirement.
    • If you are filing for a legal separation, there is no residency requirement.
  • Who may start a divorce or legal separation?
    • Either spouse may start the petition.


  • Why should I start a paternity petition?
    • If the child who was born outside of a marriage, use a paternity action to establish who the parents are.
      • Once paternity is established, the court may issue orders to help the child, such as custody/visitation and child support.
  • Who may start a paternity petition?
    • Either parent may start a paternity petition.
    • In some instances, the County of San Diego may start a petition for paternity to get a child support order.


  • If I file for DV-TRO against my partner, what orders can I ask the court to make about our child?
    • You may ask the court to make orders about custody, visitation and child support.
    • The Court may order you and your partner to attend mediation to figure out a parenting plan.  To set out legal custody, physical custody and visitation.


  • Where should I start my case?
    • You should start your petition in the court that your zip code belongs to.
  • Is there a fee for filing a petition?
    • Yes, there is a filing fee when you are starting a case and when you are answering a case.
      • But, you may fill out an application to see if you qualify for a fee waiver. If approved, you do not have to pay any filing fees.

Community Property (or debts) - any property (or debts) acquired by the spouses during marriage
Dissolution of Marriage - means the same as Divorce
Establishment of Parental Relationship - means the same as Paternity
Judgment - is a court document letting you know that the case is done
Legal Custody - ability to make decisions about a child’s health, education and welfare
Mediation - an informal meeting involving a child’s parents and the mediator to discuss a parenting plan for the child and which parent should have legal/physical custody of the child and who should have visitation 
Request for Order (RFO) - a motion for temporary orders before trial, such as child support and spousal support
Petition - the legal document to start a case
Petitioner - the person who starts a case
Physical Custody - the person with whom the child lives
Respondent - the other party to the case
Response - the legal document to answer a case
Separate Property - any property acquired before marriage, after separation, or gifts/ inheritances
Summons - is the legal document letting you know that you have been sued
Visitation - the non-custodial parent’s time with the child

How to Get More Family Law Information

For a PDF of the Family Law Informational Presentation click here.

More information about family law matters may be found at the San Diego Courthouse Website and the California Pro Bono Website.

Get Involved

We can always use volunteer assistance.