Custody governs who has responsibility for a child. This involves, for example, the question of who legally represents the child. Do you want to do this alone or together with your partner? Custody regulates, among other things, who is allowed to make important medical decisions for a child, or who is responsible for questions relating to daycare or school attendance. Also, if financial matters relating to the child need to be resolved, the person with custody decides. In addition, custody is a custodial obligation. It doesn't end until your child reaches the age of majority at 18. The people who have custody over a child are also responsible for ensuring that the child grows up safely and without abuse.

If you are expecting a child and are not married to the biological father, you should start thinking early on about how both of you will handle custody. If you both share custody of the child, then you must make all decisions for the child together. That's why it's important that you talk to each other about whether you're able to do this. You should also discuss how you will handle disagreements or what will happen if you have a serious fight.

If you are married, you and your spouse automatically have custody. If you are a single mother, then this right and this duty are automatically yours alone. You can also take responsibility for the child together with the biological father. However, you are not both officially custodial until you have made a written declaration to that effect. It is called a declaration of custody (Sorgeerklärung) and must be publicly notarised. It makes sense to submit the declaration before the baby is born. For same-sex partnerships, the legal situation is more complicated. Only the biological parent in same-sex partnerships has custody. The legal conditions for same-sex couples depend on the individual case, so you need to seek advice.

You can have the declaration of custody (Sorgeerklärung) confirmed free of charge at the responsible Youth Welfare Office (Jugendamt) for your district or city. You'll need to bring ID with you. If you do the declaration of custody after the birth, you should also have the recognition of paternity certificate (Vaterschaftsanerkennung), the baby’s birth certificate and your maternity record (Mutterpass) with you. Once notarised, you and your partner will have joint custody of your child. To prove joint custody, you will receive the certificate, which is signed by both of you. You can also go to a notary for the public notarisation of the custody declaration. But that costs money.

If you are pregnant or have had a baby and are not yet 18 years old, you will need a declaration of consent from your legal representatives in addition to your own declaration of custody. This usually means your parents. The same applies to the baby’s father if he is still a minor. A guardian has custody of your child until your 18th birthday. The guardian can be, for example, your legal representative or the father of your child if he is already of age. The Youth Welfare Office can advise you if you have questions about this process.