On behalf of The Marks Law Firm, L.L.C. posted in Child Support and Paternity on Thursday, February 6, 2014
Many mothers find themselves in the unfortunate circumstance of ending a relationship with their partner and that partner no longer contributes financially to the support of the child. Because the couple never married, no court order exists establishing the partner as the father, let alone ordering the father to pay child support to mother.
Mothers who find themselves in this situation have two options to pursue to obtain child support, each with its own set of advantages and disadvantages. In this post we discuss the first option, an administrative order of child support.
Some thirty years ago, Congress enacted a law to establish a uniform system of child support enforcement in all states. To comply with that law, Missouri established a comprehensive child support system, now known as the Family Support Division (FSD) of the Division of Social Services (DSS). Any person, regardless of financial status, may utilize the services of FSD. Importantly, FSD has no authority to make an initial finding of child custody or modify an order of child custody – only a court with proper jurisdiction may enter such an order.
To open a case, a mother (as in our fact situation, but a father can use FSD as well) files an application, setting forth all of the information about the child and the presumed father. Generally, if the name of the presumed father is on the birth certificate of the child, FSD will see that as sufficient proof of paternity. No case for child support can proceed without an official finding of paternity.
Once the case manager for FSD begins to process the case, he or she will take steps to document the actual incomes of the parties, including any forms of state aid either party receives. The case manager will also collect information of all other aspects of the Form 14, including health care and childcare expenses. Notably, at this stage of the process, because no court has issued an order of child custody and a Parenting Plan, the father cannot receive a visitation credit. After all of the data has been collected and verified, the FSD will issue an administrative order of child support, with the presumptive Form 14 amount as the amount the father would have to pay to the mother.
At this point, the father may request an administrative hearing (which takes place over telephone) in front of an administrative hearing officer (usually an attorney with Legal Services) to present evidence and contest either (1) the finding of paternity or (2) the calculation of the child support. If the father challenges paternity, the FSD will order all parties to submit to DNA testing. If the DNA testing confirms paternity, the order stands, subject to a hearing on the accuracy of the financial information. After the hearing, the FSD issues a Decision and Order that either modifies the original support or keeps it as is.
Every administrative Decision and Order is subject to judicial review. Any party unhappy with the Decision and Order may file a request for a trial de novo in front of a circuit judge. If no party contests the Decision and Order, the administrative child support order becomes binding and final, and will be registered with the circuit court as a final judgment of paternity and support. If a party does contest the Decision and Order, the circuit court will hold a hearing, consider new evidence and issue a Judgment that will be final, though subject to appeal to the Missouri Court of Appeals.
For the mother in our opening situation, an administrative process has two obvious advantages – (1) it does not require an attorney and the processing fees are minimal at best, and (2) it leaves custody unaddressed. So, if a father refuses to support his child, the mother at this point may refuse him any custody or visitation because no court order has awarded him any custody or visitation rights.
The administrative process has some negatives as well. First, the process takes a very long time – it may take up to a year for the FSD to issue a final Decision and Order. Second, any Decision and Order remains subject to challenge if the father requests review in the circuit court. Third, any finding of paternity may be challenged for up to one year after the entry of the support order.
The administrative process works best for someone who may have little contact with the father, have difficulty locating the father, or anticipates no challenge from the father to the order of support.
In the next post, we will discuss the other option to establish a support obligation – a petition in the family court.
If you have questions about how to obtain an order of child support, contact our St. Louis child support attorneys – we can help.