When you receive a "petition" (formal written request) for child support, you need to know how to respond appropriately. Child support is considered to be a fundamental right of every child. If you have a child, the court believes that it is your legal and moral obligation to support the child and will make you do so with required child support payments.
Receiving a Child Support Petition
If you receive a child support petition, you must comply with the instructions on the petition. In many cases, you will need to appear in court on a certain date. At this court hearing, the judge will determine the appropriate child support amount by looking at your income, the income of the other parent, the amount of time the child spends with each parent and any other special circumstances such as time in day care or special medical expenses that must be paid for the child. The court will decide how much child support must be paid based on these factors and based on what is in the best interests of the child.
Preparing for the Child Support Hearing
You need to appear at the hearing and bring along evidence of your income and any other documents the court has requested. You may request a paternity test, if applicable, in response to a request for child support. If such a test is requested (most often in cases where the two people involved are not married), then the child will have to submit to such a test before child support payments can be made
If you fail to show up or fail to pay child support as requested by the court, then child support payments can be ordered and the court can take measures to collect the money due. Measures to collect unpaid child support include garnishing your wages (taking money directly out of your paycheck). In some states, if you fail to pay court-ordered child support, your driver's license may be suspended, and you may face other legal actions, including fines and jail time.
Any time you receive legal documents or requests to appear in court, you should at the very least consult with an experienced family law attorney in your area. Some parents do represent themselves in child support hearings, but it's not recommended. If you don't know your state's rules on child support, have a complex case, or things have gotten contentious with your child's other parent, you should speak with a lawyer that can make sure the calculations are correct and that your rights are protected.
If you can't afford an attorney, you may be able to get help through a court-sponsored self-help center or family law facilitator's office: ask your local clerk of court if there are any in your area.