Receiving a court summons-What should you do?
One minute you are minding your own business and the next you have been handed some paper from a person you’ve never met before that instructs you to head to a courthouse on a date in the near future to discuss child support and other subjects with the mother of your child.
There’s not much in the world that can make you feel any worse than that. You’ve never been to court before. You haven’t spoken to your child’s mother in person in months. You’re going to have to ask off time from work. It is understandable to feel overwhelmed and not at all happy about having to speak to a judge.
It is important that you attend court and appear on the date that you are instructed to do so. I hope I’m not being unclear about that. First and foremost, if you have not been legally determined to be the father of the child in question it is likely that the court is asking you to come and be ordered to undergo genetic testing to determine if you are the father of the child.
If you do not attend court the judge could legally name you the father of the child without your ever having attended court. All the child’s mother has to do is to provide some information that could lead the judge to believe that you are the father.
Subjects beyond paternity like child support, child custody, medical support, and visitation can be decided in court dates like this. You will need to file a response of some sort (typically an Answer) to any summons and Petition that have been filed by either the Office of the Attorney General or your child’s mother.
Heading to court- what to do if….
You have a work commitment on the morning of your hearing
It doesn’t matter if you have a job that requires you to be at work on the morning of your hearing. The courts do not stop for one person’s work requirements, whatever they may be. As we’ve already stated all courts in this state can take action in regard to paternity and other subjects if you do not decide to attend your court date.
You will need to speak to your employer as soon as possible to request time off to attend this court appearance. If you do not get permission to attend then you will need to contact the court and the Office of the Attorney General. You may be able to schedule a hearing for a different day and time.
You already provide money to your child’s mother and pay for diapers, etc.
In your mind, you may already be doing plenty to provide for your child’s well being through paying money directly to your child’s mother and on top of that buying diapers, wipes, formula and other necessities for a young child. While you may do so, and do so with a smile on your face, it is likely that the child support court will see it differently.
The reason is that direct payment of child support does not equal actual child support payments in all likelihood. I have never seen that sort of logic work before any judge in my experience as a family law attorney. These payments are more likely to be seen as gifts from you to your child’s mother.
What do know about a hearing before you even show up to the courthouse
Most of what we fear in life, or have anxiety about can be remedied with knowledge. If you know what to expect when you will have fewer questions and hopefully less uncertainty. This section of today’s blog post will center around answering questions that you may have as you prepare a child support hearing.
For starters, yes your case will be heard in front of a judge (or an associate judge). This means that you will need to be respectful when speaking not only to the judge but to your child’s mother as well as the attorney for the Office of the Attorney General (OAG). You will need to speak up and speak clearly when addressing the judge. It is not appropriate to speak to any other party to your case unless instructed to do so by the judge.
A hearing can also take much of the day if not all day. Your notice of hearing may tell you to appear at the courthouse by 8:00 a.m. but what it doesn’t tell you is that your hearing has been scheduled for that time along with dozens of other hearings.
What you are left with is a situation where you may be able to negotiate terms of a settlement with your spouse and the OAG attorney prior to your hearing. If you cannot reach an agreement, however, you will be asked to wait to see the judge when it is your turn.
Finally, you have the right to hire an attorney before the hearing or after the hearing to ensure that your rights are represented. It is not a rule that you have to hire an attorney prior to a child support hearing but it is something that many fathers choose to do. Since you are not an attorney yourself and do not have experience in court it is something that I would recommend.
Custody/Visitation as a part of a child support hearing
It may surprise you to learn that the word “custody” does not actually appear even once within the Texas Family Code. Custody is formally known as conservatorship. A conservator of a child has certain rights and duties that pertain to the child that is shared with any other conservator of the child. As long as it is in the best interests of your child you will likely have many of the same rights and duties to your child as his or her mother.
Visitation as we commonly think of it is referred to as Possession and is broken down into periods of possession in family law courts. The Standard Possession Order (SPO) is presumed to be in the best interests of your child and is likely what is to be ordered if you and your child’s mother cannot agree to an alternative possession schedule.
The SPO allows you as the non-custodial parent to have visitation with your child on the first, third and fifth weekends of every month as well as a Thursday evening period of possession. Holidays like Christmas break and Thanksgiving are alternated each year and the summertime months bring extended periods of visitation for you that can last up to 42 days if you reside more than 100 miles from your child’s primary residence.
Speaking of living more than one hundred miles from your child- if you do live a distance like that from your child’s home it is likely that you would be awarded one weekend per month of visitation rather than a first, third and fifth schedule as described above. Finally, the midweek visitation on Thursday would not be available as time would most likely not permit you to drive in for a two-hour dinner after your work lets out.
What’s in the best interests of your child? Come back tomorrow to find out
Ultimately a child support judge will be making a determination as to what is in the best interests of your child. How a judge arrives at their decision is based on a number of factors that we will get into in tomorrow’s blog post.
In the meantime, if you have any questions for one of our licensed family law attorneys please do not hesitate to contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC. We are available to meet with you in a free of charge consultation six days a week.
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Other Articles you may be interested in:
- Defining a material and substantial change in a child support modification case
- How to properly calculate child support in Texas
- Is Overtime Pay or Bonus Pay Considered for Texas Child Support?
- Child Support in Texas: What is the most you will have to pay and what are the exceptions to that rule?
- The Dirty Trick of Quitting Your Job to Avoid Child Support During a Texas Divorce
- Can I get child support while my Texas divorce is pending?
- Do I Have to Pay Child Support if I Have Joint Custody of My Child in Texas?
- Can I Sue My Ex for Retroactive or Back Child Support in Texas?
- Child Support and College Tuition in Texas
- Texas Child Support Appeals
- In Texas are Child Support and Visitation Connected?
- Why Ignoring Child Support Obligations is a Bad Idea in Texas
- Can I get child support and custody of my kids in Texas if we were never married?
Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC | Houston, Texas Child Support Lawyers
The Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC routinely handles matters that affect children and families. If you have questions regarding child support, it's important to speak with one of our Houston, TX child support lawyers right away to protect your rights.
Our child support lawyers in Houston, TX are skilled at listening to your goals during this trying process and developing a strategy to meet those goals. Contact Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC by calling (281) 810-9760 or submit your contact information in our online form. The Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC handles child support cases in Houston, Texas, Cypress, Klein, Humble, Kingwood, Tomball, The Woodlands, Houston, the FM 1960 area, or surrounding areas, including Harris County, Montgomery County, Liberty County, Chambers County, Galveston County, Brazoria County, Fort Bend County and Waller County.