On behalf of The Marks Law Firm, L.L.C. posted in Child Support and Paternity on Friday, February 7, 2014
In the previous post we discussed how a mother could obtain child support administratively through the Family Support Division (FSD) of the Division of Social Services (DSS). In this post, we discuss how that same mother could obtain child support through the family court.
To invoke the jurisdiction of the family court, mother would need to file a Petition for Determination of Child Support (if the father’s name is on the birth certificate) or a Petition for Determination of Paternity and for Child Support (if the father’s name is not on the birth certificate).
Once mother files her initial petition, father will be served and will have thirty days after service to file an answer or otherwise he will go into default. If the father never answers or enters an appearance, the case will fast track to the default docket, at which point the court will hear evidence from mother about all relevant Form 14 facts and paternity and issue a default Judgment of Support.
If father does file an answer, father will either (a) contest paternity, (b) acknowledge paternity but challenge the support assumptions, or (c) file a Counter-Petition seeking some form of legal and physical custody.
If father contests paternity, the court will order DNA testing. If the testing confirms paternity, the case proceeds; otherwise, the case is dismissed.
Once the issue of paternity is determined, if father has not sought custody the court will hear evidence regarding finances, childcare expenses, health insurance and any other necessary or extraordinary expenses, and of course the incomes of each parent. After receiving the evidence, the court will complete a Form 14 and enter either an award for the presumptive amount or an award for a different amount if the court finds the sum unjust and inappropriate under the circumstances.
If the father seeks some form of custody, and the parties do not reach an agreement, the court will also hear that part of the case and determine what, if any, legal and physical custodial rights the father will have and enter a Parenting Plan.
For the mother seeking child support, filing directly in the family court has the clear advantage of (1) speed, as the case could reach disposition within two months of filing if in default or not contested, and (2) conclusiveness – unlike the administrative process, which has multiple layers of review just to get a final judgment, the court itself issues the final judgment (though either party has the option of appealing to the Missouri Court of Appeals).
One possible disadvantage would be the possibility of the father adding a claim for child custody. However, a father could file a petition for custody at any time, so this should not be seen as a real negative.
And while an attorney fee will be required to pursue the court route, the investment in a fee may well be worth (a) a much faster resolution to begin receiving child support and (b) to avoid all of the administrative processes that could land you back in court with an attorney one year later.
Another advantage of the court process over the administrative process involves negotiation – with both parties represented by attorneys and a judge involved, it will be easier for the parties to reach agreement on the key issues and save time and money. The court schedules settlement conferences for precisely this reason.
For those seeking a quicker and definitive resolution, or those who anticipate the father putting up a challenge, going straight to family court will seem like the best option.
If you have questions about how to obtain an order of child support, contact our St. Louis child support attorneys – we can help.