I am in reentry, and I want to reconnect with my child or grandchild. Where can I start?

Find out if there are any court orders that could limit or stop you from contacting your child and/or your child’s caregiver.

> What is a court order?

A court order is a legal decision by a judge requiring something. It could affect your ability to reconnect with your child, so it is very important to know about them. A court order could impact you in the following ways:

    A court order could limit your custody or visitation rights.
    A court order could require you to DO or NOT DO something.[2316]
> Why are court orders important to know about when I am trying to reconnect with my child?

Court orders are very important because they may explain your rights and responsibilities with your child—including when and how you are allowed to visit and contact the child. If you break a court order, then you could ruin your ability to reconnect with your child. Why? By violating the court order, you could face civil or criminal consequences that could prohibit you from contacting your child at all. Also, breaking a court order is a violation of the law as well as a violation of supervision. If you want to change a court order, you need to go to the court where the order is from and ask about the process to change it.

> How do I know if there is a court order affecting my rights with my child?

IF YOU WERE SERVED WITH COURT PAPERS (before, during, or after your incarceration), check the papers to see if they include court orders that limit your custody and/or visitation rights with your child OR limit your ability to contact your child and/or your child’s other parent or current caregiver (for grandparents, the child’s caregiver might be your child, your grandchild’s other parent, or someone else).

IF YOU ARE NOT SURE IF THERE ARE ANY COURT ORDERS, you can find out by contacting the clerk in the local county court where your child’s case is going on. You can usually call the clerk’s office by phone or go in person when the clerk’s office is open. Ask for copies of ALL the court orders in the case. Usually, a court order will say “court order” or “order” on the paperwork.

To figure out if there is a case in court that involves your child and more information on this question, see Step 4 on PG. 722 below.

Find out if there are any CONDITIONS OF PAROLE, PROBATION, OR OTHER TYPE OF COMMUNITY SUPERVISION that could limit or stop you from contacting your child and/or your child’s caregiver.

If you are on parole, probation, or some other type of community supervision, you must get to know and follow ALL of the terms and conditions of your supervision. This includes any rules about whom you can and cannot contact, places where you can and cannot travel, move, live, or visit.

These conditions can impact your ability to see or visit your child(ren)—so be aware of them BEFORE you start contacting or visiting them.

If you want to change any conditions of supervision, read about the process for your type of community supervision in the PAROLE & PROBATION CHAPTER of this guide: see PG. 173 (state parole); 199 (PRCS); 192 (Mandatory Supervision), 192 (informal probation), 196 (formal probation), 213 (Federal Supervised Release or Federal Probation). Until and unless a supervision condition is changed through the legal process, you should ALWAYS FOLLOW IT!

You my also be able to request a travel pass from your parole or probation officer to travel beyond where you are normally allowed to go. You may need a travel pass to attend a court hearing or visit with family members or friends for your case. For more information about travel restrictions and other conditions of supervision, see PG. 125 in the PAROLE & PROBATION CHAPTER. For more information about protective, no-contact, and restraining orders, see also PG. 730.

Locate your child.

If you do not already know where you child is, the next step is to locate your child—so long as there are no court orders or conditions of your supervision that prevent you from contacting your child or child’s caregiver.

You will need to know the location of your child and child’s caregiver if you want to contact that child or “serve” the caregiver with any court papers, if you open a case. (To “serve” someone with court papers means to give proper legal documentation and notification about a court case to certain required people.)

HELPFUL HINTGeneral Tips for Locating Your Child

IF CHILD PROTECTIVE SERVICES (CPS) IS INVOLVED in your child’s case, you can contact CPS to help you locate your child and current caregiver. IF CPS IS NOT INVOLVED in your child’s case, you could try to call family members, friends, the other parent, or the other parent’s family or friends—so long as this contact would not violate any court orders, parole/probation conditions, personal conduct no-contact and/or protective orders!IF YOU STILL CAN’T LOCATE YOUR CHILD, you could try social media (such as Facebook or Twitter) to ask if a friend or family member knows where your child is or who is taking care of him/her. Remember to always be safe and careful—only contact people you trust, and follow any orders or supervision conditions against you!

Find out if there is a court case (an open case or a past case) involving your child(ren).

Next, you will need to know if there’s already a court case (open OR closed) involving your child(ren).

For Parents: By law, when a court case is filed about a child, both parents have the rights to (1) be notified of the case, (2) be sent copies of the court documents, and (3) have the chance to respond.

IF YOU WERE SERVED WITH COURT PAPERS ABOUT YOUR CHILD’S CASE WHILE YOU WERE INCARCERATED, those papers should tell you: (1) the case number, and (2) the exact court the case was in.

PLEASE NOTE: Mistakes often happen with the legal filing and mailing processes—so if you’re a parent, there’s a chance that you didn’t receive the papers that you should have; let the judge know if this happened!

For Grandparents: You may be able to request court papers on open cases about your grandchild if you can show:

    You have actual knowledge or belief that the court records exist AND
    The papers are necessary for you to see.[2317]

HELPFUL HINTGeneral Tips for Figuring Out if there is a Court Case Involving Your Child or Grandchild

ASK A CAREGIVER: If you know your child’s caregiver, you can ask him or her about any court case(s) involving your child. It can help to ask (1) which court the case is (or was) in; (2) the case number (if the caregiver can find it); (3) copies of any court or legal papers from your child’s case; and (4) any other information that you can find out.CONTACT THE COURT: If you don’t know where or with whom your child is living (or if the caregiver won’t give you any information), you could contact ALL THREE COURTS in the county where your child lives (or where your child was living when you last knew)—(1) family court, (2) probate court, and (3) dependency court. Be prepared to provide as much information as you can about your child and yourself.[2318]

IF THERE IS A COURT CASE INVOLVING YOUR CHILD, it is best to next contact the court clerk to request a copy of any court orders and other documents about the court case, and ask to join the case.

If there is a court case involving your child, you will most likely have to join that case, as opposed to starting a new one, to increase your custody or visitation rights.

FOR ANY CASE—WHETHER IT IS OPEN OR IN THE PAST—ALWAYS GET COPIES OF ANY COURT ORDERS! Getting copies of all court papers, including court orders, are an important part of the process of learning about or joining a case. Court orders can explain your current rights and responsibilities with your child—including when and how you are allowed to visit and contact the child OR limiting or preventing you from contacting the child. If you want more custody or visitation, you may need to ask the judge to change this court order.

IF CPS IS INVOLVED IN YOUR CHILD’S CASE, ask the clerk at the dependency court in the county where your child lives for any court orders. [2319] You can also ask your county social worker and/or the dependency court judge for:

    (1) A copy of your case plan, which explains what you need to do to get your child back (IF that is an option at this point in time); AND
    (2) Family reunification services, which are classes and programs to help you get your child back.
    Learn more about the Juvenile Dependency Court Process on PG. 747).

FOR MORE INFORMATION:

    For probate court rules and procedures, see PG. 741.
    For juvenile dependency court rules and procedures, see PG. 747.
    For family court rules and procedures, see PG. 737.
    For a SUMMARY of the three family-related courts listed here, see the chart on PG. 734.

IF THERE IS NO COURT CASE INVOLVING YOUR CHILD and NO COURT ORDERS, you will likely need to open a new case to ask a judge for more rights and responsibilities as a parent.

For Parents: If there is no court case involving your child OR no court order in your child’s case, you will likely need to open a new case.

To start a new case, you may need to file a “petition” in court, which means you file specific paperwork to ask the judge for more rights and responsibilities as a parent (or caregiver). And depending on what rights you want to get (for example, custody, visitation, guardianship, etc.), you may need to go to one of the courts discussed on PG. 734).

    For probate court rules and procedures, see PG. 741.
    For juvenile dependency court rules and procedures, see PG. 747.
    For family court rules and procedures, see PG. 737.
    For a SUMMARY of the three family-related courts listed here, see the chart on PG. 734.

Once you file a petition in the proper court, you will have to prepare to go to court for a hearing or other procedures. Each of the three family-related courts in California has different powers, different rules, and different procedures that you need to be aware of before going to court.

Exactly how your record will impact your request for greater custody and visitation rights will depend on the court your case is in and the exact conviction(s) on your record. Some convictions will completely prevent you as a parent or a grandparent from getting custody or visitation of your child or grandchild. For more information on the impact of specific convictions, see PG. 719.

You may also consider asking a judge for VISITATION before you ask for full CUSTODY. Read the helpful hint box on PG. 724 for more information.

HELPFUL HINTIt’s Easier to Get Visitation Rights than Custody

In general, if you are the child’s parent, it is usually easier to get visitation rights with your child at first, rather than full custody after a period of incarceration. California has a strong public policy of supporting parent-child relationships and allowing visits unless they will be harmful to the child.[2320] Asking a judge for visitation rights with your child—and then allowing for some time to show that the visits are going well—can be a great first step to getting custody. Through visitation with your child, you can show a judge that you are responsible, have a good relationship with your child, and eventually request greater custody rights.

For Grandparents Who Want to Reunify with Grandchildren: If there is no existing court case regarding your grandchild, your options are limited because you can only start a new case in very limited circumstances. Read the section on “Grandparents Rights” on PG. 738 for more information on when a grandparent can start a new case.

Yes, a criminal record could, and often does, affect your ability to reconnect with your child or grandchild. But in many cases, it is STILL POSSIBLE to reconnect with your child or grandchild, even though your record will come up in court.

  1. 2316

    Judicial Council of Cal., Restraining Orders, (2016) available at http://www.courts.ca.gov/1260.htm.

  2. 2317

    Cal. R. Ct. rule 5.552(c); see also Charles S v Superior Court, 168 Cal. App. 3d 151 (1985) (A grandparent’s interest in the child has been ruled to sufficiently strong to warrant involvement in court proceedings in the past.) (setting the precedence that any relative who is interested in the welfare of the child has standing to participate in juvenile court proceedings).

  3. 2318

    Helpful identifying information includes: your full name, your date of birth, your Social Security Number, your child’s full name, your child’s date of birth, your child’s Social Security Number, etc. To find the phone numbers and addresses of these courts, check online (for example, through a Google.com search), the local Yellow Pages, or call 2-1-1 or 4-1-1 “Information” (note: 4-1-1 usually costs $1.99 per call). You can also find a list of all California courts for every county by visiting the following website: http://www.courts.ca.gov/find-my-court.htm (click on “Contact”).

  4. 2319

    Usually if there is a CPS case, then your parental rights have been restricted or terminated. For more information on termination of parental rights, read the section on juvenile dependency court, starting on PG. 804 below.

  5. 2320

    See, e.g., Cal. Fam. Code §§ 3020(b), 3100(a); Cal. Welf. & Inst. Code § 362.1(a).