If you have been served child support papers, you want to know what you need to do next.
In this post we will assume that :
- you are a man,
- you and the mother were together for a while and she had a child,
- you and the mother broke up and separated,
- you are sure the kid is yours*, and/or you are listed as the father on the birth certificate,
- you want to be involved in the child’s life, but you are OK with the kid living with his or her mother, and
- you want to pay the right amount of child support
- (we are also going to assume the petition was filed in Wyoming by Child Support Services, but these same principles probably apply elsewhere too)
Answer the Petition
One of the papers you were served is the Petition.
This is the document that sets out the basic requirements for the suit, such as the names of the mother, the child, the father, their birth dates, addresses, etc., and that the child lives in the State, and that there is no support order in place for that child.
Generally, each numbered paragraph of the Petition contains one or more factual allegations that you must answer. You must admit or deny each allegation individually, or if you do not know if the allegation is true or false, you must state so.
File a Counter-Petition to Establish Custody, Visitation and Support
In addition to answering the Petition, you need to file a Counter-Petition to make sure you get visitation rights.
In many Wyoming counties, the Child Support Services office will file the Petition to establish support. They will assert that mother has custody, father has to pay support, and the Court’s orders will not say anything about father’s visitation rights.
Some Courts will grant visitation rights in these sorts of cases, but they will be generic, standard terms, and they may not fit your living situation and work schedule.
If you want the Court to award you the sort of visitation that works for you, you need to ask for that by filing a Counter-Petition.
Gather Your Income Information
Child support is based on the net incomes of the child’s parents. Your net income is not necessarily what you clear on each paycheck.
In Wyoming, you can deduct your taxes, health insurance premiums (for the child), child support for your other children, union dues and mandatory retirement contributions.
The only way to get an accurate calculation of your net income is to gather your last two (or three) income tax returns and W-2’s, and your pay stubs showing your year to date earnings. Be sure to collect at least a month’s worth of pay stubs, so that you are sure to catch all your deductions.
So, if you get paid once a month, you need the last pay stub, if you get paid twice a month, then your last two, if every other week, then the last three pay stubs, and if you get paid once a week, then you need the last five pay stubs.
If you are unemployed, then bring the stubs you get from unemployment. If you are self-employed, then you should probably get yourself a lawyer.
Your Petition probably also came with a blank Confidential Financial Affidavit, and you should complete that document, and file it with the Court and mail a copy to Child Support Services.
Attend the Child Support Hearing
The Petition to establish child support will almost always come with an Order Setting Hearing. This order will indicate the place, date and time of the hearing.
Do not make the mistake of not showing up for this hearing. Even if you have to take time off from work. If you do not attend the hearing, the attorney for child support services office will just take the mother’s word to establish your income, and set the support amount accordingly.
It is very easy for the mother to only remember your big checks (the ones with a ton of overtime) when she is asked about your income.
Even if you submitted the Confidential Financial Affidavit to the Court, you may have calculated incorrectly, or made some other mistake. The hearing is the only place where these things can be corrected.
Let me say this again: Be sure to attend the child support hearing in person!
Consider Hiring a Lawyer
Many fathers decide to go it alone when they are served with child support papers. However, when the State sues you for support, you are not involved in a friendly, cooperative legal case. The child support attorney is there to get as much support for the mother as possible. They are also not interested in making sure that you get the visitation that you are entitled to.
A good family law attorney can make sure you pay the right amount of support, and not any more, and can help you get the visitation that you want and deserve.
* If you are not sure you are the father, then you must request paternity testing. This request will put the action on hold until genetic testing is ordered and completed. You must file this request now, because it is extremely difficult to disprove your paternity after it has been adjudicated by the Court, and you are ordered to pay child support.
Posted by Steve Harton, a family law attorney practicing in Wyoming.