Paternity / Parentage
If you have a child out of wedlock you will probably need to go to court for at some point to establish the rules for raising that child once you and the other parent break up. A Paternity – or what we now call Parentage case – addresses many of the same issues as does a divorce, but it is focused just on the care of your child or children. Things addressed include legal custody physical custody, visitation, healthcare, childcare, tax benefits, child support, etc. In some cases a party will demand a DNA paternity test before any parental rights are considered.
Some people are able to negotiate an uncontested parenting plan before they hire a lawyer. So, why hire a lawyer at all? There are several reasons to hire a lawyer even if your case is uncontested:
The lawyer ensures that you have not forgotten or left out any crucial terms for parentage decree.
The lawyer makes sure that the agreement between you and your ex complies with the law and will be accepted and enforced by the judge assigned to your case.
The lawyer prepares all the legal documents for you.
Even if your case is uncontested, there are several legal documents that must be prepared and filed with the court for the judge to review. The lawyer also makes sure that they are clear and precise in their terms, and submitted to the court as required by law.
Contested Parentage Case
If you and your ex are not able to come to agreements right away you may need to proceed by filing your case, having your ex served, and waiting to see if he or she contests the terms of your petition. You only get to bring your case once and it is vital that you get good advice, good document preparation and good representation. To make good decisions about your case, you must have good and accurate information. Experience matters when choosing an attorney. Most contested parentage cases do not go all the way to trial. With good attorneys involved most cases will settle before then. But if you have to go to court for a judge to decide your case, make sure you have a good attorney at your side.
Only a judge can grant a parentage decree. A mediator cannot grant you a decree. Mediators do play an important role in helping people settle their cases so that they can submit their settlement agreement to the judge, rather than going before the judge for a trial. All contested cases have to go to mediation. Make sure you have a good attorney with you so you can make good decisions at your mediation.
Parentage cases do not involve division of property or debts like a divorce case. However, sometimes at mediation the parties will want to discuss and settle those issues as well. It is important to talk to your lawyer and decide what issues you will be talking about at mediation.
Sometimes we need to get into court right away for the court to decide where the kids will live, what visitation will be, what support will be paid, etc. while the parentage case is pending. Those are called temporary orders.
If there has been violence between you and your ex the court may enter an emergency protective order. A protective order may serve the same function as a temporary order. If there has been child abuse, the court may enter a protective order for the child.
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