You've been served with a summons to appear at a child support court hearing. But what happens at a hearing, and what are your rights?
Child support laws differ by state, but here are some general guidelines about what to expect at a hearing.
A child support court hearing can be triggered when one parent requests a child support order, or wants to change an existing order. Even if both parents agree to a change, they must still appear at a court hearing to convince a judge it's in the best interest of all parties -- especially the children.
Not all child support hearings happen in court, however.
Some states like Oregon conduct most child support hearings by telephone. If that's the case in your state, make sure the court and the other party have copies of your paperwork before the proceeding.
At a hearing, a judge must give both parents an opportunity to be heard. You're generally allowed to call witnesses to bolster your case. If the hearing is for an initial child support order, a parent may also be required to prove a child's paternity or maternity.
For a child support modification, the requesting parent must show there's a change in circumstances that requires a revised support order. Valid reasons generally include a child's changing needs, a parent's disability, or a change in employment. If a parent opposes the proposed change, there will be an opportunity to explain why.
Attorneys for the state can also request a child support court hearing on a parent's behalf, or to make deadbeat parents pay up. But if a state attorney is taking you to court over child support, you may have a right to a court-appointed attorney.
Most states cover the cost of counsel for indigent parents who go up against state attorneys, in order to "level the playing field." However, this is not a requirement in some states like Georgia. (A class-action lawsuit is trying to change that, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports.)
Bottom line: Both parents will get to present their arguments before a judge makes a decision at a child support court hearing. Because child support laws are complicated, you may want to consult an attorney before you get your day in court.