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Filing for custody
Custody is a matter that arises mainly after a divorce or separation since most times there are children involved. For the court, the welfare of the child is the most important consideration as it involves placing the child under the care and control of an individual. Custody is not limited to children within a marriage but also to parents in common-law relationships and extends to parents who are not in a relationship.
What is custody
Custody is defined in the Family Law Act, Chap. 46:08 (the Act) as the right to possession and care of a minor. Legal custody means, in relation to a minor, so much of the parental rights and duties as relate to the person of the minor. This includes the place and manner in which the child’s time is spent.
Who can apply for custody
Anyone can apply for custody of a child once the court is satisfied of the reason and is of the opinion that a person has sufficient interest in the welfare of the child. Apart from parents, other persons referred to as ‘strangers’ in the Act may also apply. Such persons may include aunts, uncles, grandparents and close family members. The court will grant what is known as a fit persons order to anyone who is able to give the child the necessary protective guardianship and will be given care and control of the minor.
How and where to apply
The Family Court system in Trinidad and Tobago comprises both the Magistrates’ Court and the High Court divisions. An application for custody can be made at both divisions. All divorces are dealt with in the High Court. Where custody is an issue it is simply easier to have it dealt with as part of the divorce proceedings as well or as a related matter. However,where this is not done a parent can apply through the Magistrate’s Court.
Persons living in the district of St George West (Chaguaramas to Mt Lambert) can go to the Family Court in Port-of-Spain. All other persons must go to the Magistrate’s Court in their area. The process is done by making the application for custody, which is guided by an intake officer in the Family Court or Justice of the Peace in other districts.
Each application per child costs $3. The reason why custody should be granted is important, as well documents such as identification or passport, the child’s birth certificate, and the full address of the parent. A date is fixed for court to appear before a magistrate approximately 4 to 6 weeks after filing of the application.
A notice or summons is sent to the respondent making him/her aware of the proceedings and the date to attend court. The decision whether to grant custody is entirely up to the Magistrate. Following this the court may make a full order granting custody to the person who is deemed fit.
• This column is not legal advice. If you have a legal problem, you should consult a legal adviser. Co-ordinator: Roshan Ramcharitar