How to Respond to a Child Support Summons

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By Brette Sember, JD Updated Feb 15, 2024


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A child support summons is a notice that you must appear in court to respond to a petition asking that you pay child support. If you receive one of these, you might be unsure how to respond to a child support summons.

In this article, we will explain everything you need to know so that you can be prepared for the case against you.

Key Takeaways

  • Taking a child support summons seriously is crucial because ignoring it has negative consequences.
  • Upon receiving a summons, read it carefully and understand who filed it, what they are seeking, and when and where the court date is.
  • Get an attorney to assist you for the best possible outcome.
  • File an answer to the summons if you wish, or appear in court and state your position.
  • Be sure to understand that if you fail to respond or pay child support, you could face a judgment, collection, license suspension, wage garnishment, or even jail time.

Importance of Taking a Child Support Summons Seriously

The worst thing you can do when receiving a child support summons is to ignore it.

You have no input or control over the case if you don't participate. Additionally, a summons is a court order; if you ignore it, you could be placed in contempt of court.

Understanding a Child Support Summons

A child support summons is a court document requiring you to appear in court to respond to a child support case brought against you.

The summons will include the court appearance date, time, and place. It will also indicate if it will be held in person or if there is a virtual option.

A child support summons is issued when another person has begun proceedings to collect child support from you.

The case could be brought by:

  • Your co-parent of a child you share
  • A person who believes you are the parent of their child (but it has not been proven yet)
  • The state which is providing care for your child in foster care

A summons legally requires you to appear in court at the time stated, or at the very least, contact the court and reschedule it to another date. You cannot and should not ignore the summons, even if you believe you do not owe child support.

Steps to Take After Receiving a Summons

If you receive a child support summons, there are specific steps you should take to make sure you get all the information you need and protect yourself completely.

people and child support summons

Read the Summons Carefully

The first thing to do is to read the summons carefully.

It will tell you:

  • Who has brought the case
  • The name of their attorney, if they have one
  • What exactly they are asking for
  • The child involved and their date of birth
  • When and where the hearing is
  • Information you are required to provide (such as a financial affidavit and/or pay stub)
  • The consequences for failing to appear

Note the Deadline for Response

The summons will list a specific date and time you must appear in court. This is essential information. You are legally required to appear at that time. If you do not, the court can enter a default judgment against you, which means the judge decides the case without your input.

A default judgment is a binding judgment in favor of either party based on some failure to take action by the other party. Most commonly, it occurs in the context of a court case when a defendant fails to respond to a summons or fails to appear before the court.

If you cannot appear on that date and have a good reason why you cannot, you can contact the court and request that it be rescheduled. Whatever you do, do not simply ignore the summons and skip the appearance because you're busy with something else.

Understand the Allegations and Requirements

The summons and any attached forms will specify what the other party wants.

Usually, it is a request that child support be ordered for the child or children in question. It may also be seeking that you provide health insurance for the child and/or pay for additional expenses for the child (such as school expenses or extracurricular activities).

If you already have a child support order, the summons could be seeking to enforce it – to get you to pay what you already owe. It could also ask the court to modify or change an existing support order so that you have to pay more.

Consider Your Response

To respond to the summons, you must appear in court. You have several options for how you can move forward with the case:

  • You can agree to what the summons is asking for
  • You can disagree with what the summons is asking for and ask for a hearing to let the judge decide
  • You can state that the child in question is not yours and ask for a paternity test
  • You can negotiate with the other parent and reach an agreement that is then submitted to the court

Seek Legal Advice

A child support case not only impacts your financial situation for years to come but there can be other serious consequences. Because of this, it is always a good idea to get legal advice for your case.

A family law attorney can explain your options and ensure you get the best possible outcome in your case. They also may be able to negotiate a settlement that could save you thousands of dollars.

How to Formally Respond to the Summons

If you receive a child support summons, you have the option of filing an answer to the summons. You also can simply appear in court at the time indicated and respond at that time.

Gather and Attach Supporting Documents

The summons may include a financial affidavit or questionnaire you must complete.

This document should be completed honestly and fully. You may also be required to submit documents such as pay stubs, tax returns, proof of payment of previous support for the child, and proof of payment of expenses for the child.

Do not send the originals of these documents. Include copies only if you are submitting a hard copy answer. If you are responding online, you can scan and attach the documents.

Prepare Your Response (Answer)

If you wish to send a formal written answer, you can do so. Your state court website may have a form you can utilize.

In the answer, you state whether you agree or disagree with what the petitioner is asking for. You can also disagree with the allegations the petitioner is making (such as you being the father or parent of the child in question).

In most states, you are not required to submit a formal answer if you don't want to. Most people who do not have attorneys do not submit answers. Instead, you can just appear in court on the date listed in the papers and tell the judge what you disagree with at that time.

Include Counterclaims, if Applicable

An answer can include counterclaims. A counterclaim is when you turn the tables and say that the petitioner actually owes you child support or has failed to provide health insurance for the child. If this is the case in your situation, you can include it in your answer instead of having to file a cross-petition.

File Your Response with the Court

If you are filing an answer, you must do so by the date listed in the summons. You must also still appear in court on that date unless the court notifies you otherwise.

Serve the Other Party

If you file an answer, you must file it with the court and serve it on the other party. You can use a process server, or the sheriff's office may provide process service in your area. Each state has its own rules about what is considered legal process service.

An attorney can help you understand how to serve the papers.

Keep Proof of Service

If you file an answer and have it served, you must obtain proof of service. This is usually an affidavit signed by the person who served it, but if you are allowed to serve by mail, the certified mail receipt is your proof. Usually, you must file the proof of service with the court.

The Consequences of Ignoring a Summons

Ignoring or not responding to a child support summons can have severe and long-lasting consequences you must be aware of.

Default Judgment

If you fail to respond to the summons within the specified time frame, the court may issue a default judgment against you. This means the court automatically grants the petitioner's requests without hearing your side of the story.

You could be ordered to pay child support, pay for health insurance for the child, provide life insurance, and pay for the child's expenses.

However, the court will only grant what is reasonable and will stick to your state's child support standards, which set out the percentage of your income you can be required to pay as support based on how many children are involved.

Collection Actions

Once the court determines that child support is owed, a legally enforceable court order is issued. If you don't pay, a judgment can be entered against you, and the money owed can be collected by wage garnishment, seizure of tax refunds and lottery winnings, liens on your real property (which can then be seized and sold), and freezing your bank accounts.

Impact on Credit Score

The unpaid judgment can be reported to credit reporting agencies, damaging your credit score, making it difficult to get a loan or even a job.

Suspension of Licenses

If you fail to pay child support, your driver's license can be suspended, and you can be denied a passport. If you have a professional or business license, this can also be suspended. Recreational licenses (such as hunting licenses) can be suspended as well.

court hearing

Jail Time

Failure to pay child support can result in jail time, anywhere from a few days to months. Judges only order jail time in the most extreme circumstances because a person who is in jail cannot earn a living to pay back the owed support.

Impact on Parental Rights

You cannot lose your parental rights for non-payment of child support, and your visitation time can't be reduced. Some custodial parents think they can withhold visitation if child support is not paid, and that is not correct. If the other parent attempts to withhold the child from you, you can file a petition for violation of custody or child support.

It is also essential to know that you cannot give up your parental rights in an attempt to avoid child support.

Final Thoughts

Responding to a child support summons is a critical responsibility that goes beyond legal compliance; it's a testament to your commitment to your child's well-being. Take this process seriously by thoroughly understanding the summons and preparing a thoughtful response.

If in doubt, legal advice can be invaluable in navigating this process. Your engagement in this process is crucial. It's not just about adhering to legal requirements but about actively participating in decisions that profoundly impact your child's life.

Whether you agree with the summons or not, your constructive involvement can lead to more favorable outcomes. Remember, this is more than a legal obligation; it's an opportunity to positively influence your child's future.

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