A parentage action is like a divorce. Sort of. A parentage action is for people who aren’t married but have a child or children together. A parentage action allows the Court to decree who a child’s parents actually are and then determine custody and parent-time.
The big difference between a divorce and parentage action, of course, is that property and debt division generally isn’t part of the process. In a parentage action, we’re usually focused on custody, parent-time, and child support issues.
Sometimes, divorces can actually be amicable, with both parties on board with how their divorce should be resolved. In those cases, all that’s generally left is tying up some loose ends and drafting all the necessary documents. I can make the drafting process as easy and inexpensive for you as possible.
Usually, however, the parties are initially unable to agree on how to resolve their divorce and must go through the process. The process generally goes something like this:
- Party 1 files a petition for parentage with the Court and the parentage proceedings begin.
- The petition for parentage and a summons are served on Party 2. Party 2 has 21 days from being served to file an answer to the petition and, if Party 2 chooses, file a counterpetition for parentage.
- If Party 2 files a counterpetition for parentage, Party 1 ha 21 days to answer the counterpetition.
- If a party disputes parentage of a child, genetic testing will generally be performed to make a conclusive determination.
- In the meantime, both parties are gathering up financial documentation that must be exchanges (for example, the law requires exchange of 12 months of pay stubs, 3 months of financial statements, loan documents, real property documents, tax returns, etc.). Once the financial information is exchanged and other necessary discovery is done (for example, obtaining an appraisal of the marital home), it’s generally time to either attend mediation or proceed to court.
- Though mediation is generally not required in a parentage action, I think it’s almost always a good idea because, like divorces, mediation offers an excellent opportunity for the parties to speak to each other, indirectly through a mediator, to try and reach a resolution without tossing the dice and going to court. In fact, in my extensive experience, mediation is where most parentage cases are resolved. For mediation, the parties hire a professional mediator and generally split the mediator’s hourly fee. Most often, the parties are in separate rooms (with their attorneys) and the mediator bounces back and forth between the rooms in an attempt to craft a resolution. The parties can be creative in reaching a resolution. If the parties reach an agreement, a binding stipulation will be drafted and signed. At that point, generally all that’s left to do is draft the final documents for the Court’s review and signature.
- If, however, mediation fails (or not attempted), then the next step is usually to ask the judge to set a date for trial so that the judge can decide how the divorce will be resolved.
Every parentage case is different in nature and some will not mirror the process outlined above. For example, in some parentage cases, we’ll need to seek temporary orders from the Court that govern what custody and parent-time will look like while the parentage case is being worked through. In other parentage cases involving heated or complicated custody disputes, a custody evaluation will need to be performed and/or a guardian ad litem (an attorney for the children) for the children appointed. In other cases, one party may be self-employed and the services of an accountant may be required to review and analyze that party’s business records for purposes of determining that party’s gross monthly income for child support purposes. Regardless of the nature of your parentage action, I can help you through it.
Let’s talk about your parentage case. We can talk about custody and parent-time, and the factors the judge usually considers in making decisions on those issues (for example, who has been the child’s primary caregiver, what the parties’ work schedules look like, the distance between the parties’ residences, etc.). I can answer your questions and we can set a strategy together aimed at reaching the best possible outcome for your case.