A Parentage case is the process of establishing that an individual is the legal parent of a child. Sometimes these cases will be filed by fathers who are not named on the birth certificate and are being denied their parental rights by the mother. Other times, these cases may be filed by the mothers who are seeking to establish a child support order or parenting plan with the father. Either way, the underlying goal is to determine who the parents are for the child.
- Petition: To get the divorce process started, a petition needs to filed. The person who files the Petition is known as the "Petitioner" and the person who responds to the Petition is known as the "Respondent." It is essential to file the Petition in the correct court; failure to do so may lead to a dismissal. Along with the Petition, the Petitioner must also file a summons, confidential information form, and vital statistics form. Once these documents are filed, a case number will be assigned. The Petitioner needs to ensure that the Respondent is personally served with the summons and petition. If personal service is not a possibility, other remedies can be pursued.
- Case Schedule: Once a case is filed and served, the Court will issue a case schedule which includes a trial date. The trial day is usually set at least one year after from the date of filing. This does not mean that the parties' have to wait a year before a parentage order, final parenting plan, and child support order can be entered. The parents can file agreed orders anytime before trial. It is very important for each party to abide by the case schedule; failure to do so may lead to a dismissal or default judgment.
- Temporary Motion Hearing: many people will need to have a motion hearing to decide what should happen while the case is awaiting trial, as typically trial is set a year after the filing date. A party may need the court to decide: (a) a temporary parenting plan; (b) a temporary child support order; (c) whether a restraining order or protection order should be implemented; (d) whether a court-appointed investigator should be appointed; and (e) whether the child and father should submit to a genetic test. These hearings are very important and carry a lot of weight at the trial.
- Motion for Summary Judgment: If the Court ordered a genetic test at the temporary motion hearing and the results confirm paternity, either party can request a motion for summary judgment confirming paternity. This will effectively add the father to the birth certificate and will require the obligation of child support. The case will then move on to determine a final parenting plan and child support order.
- Investigation: before final orders can begin, typically both parties need to conduct their own investigation. This investigative phase is referred to as "discovery." The discovery process is essential for gathering evidence for a custody trial. Proper discovery methods can ensure that you find all of the other side's hidden skeletons in order to ensure that the court has all the facts needed to keep your child safe and ensure that the final parenting plan serves his/her interests.
- Mediation: Both parties are required to attend mediation before a case can go to trial. There are exceptions for some domestic violence relationships. Most family law cases resolve out of the courtroom, so it is very important to attend a mediation fully prepared and to understand when to walk away if you cannot reach an agreement.
- Trial: If all else fails, then the parties will go to trial. Trial does not just mean that you walk into a courtroom and tell your story; you have to provide trial briefs, opening statements, statements of evidence, closing arguments, and working copies to the court which contain all of your exhibits. You will need to ensure that your witnesses are lined up and that you can present your case in a logical and chronological fashion so that the judicial officer can follow along. However, there are also certain nuances that may seem overwhelming to some people, such as the rules of evidence, objections, examining witnesses, and introducing exhibits. While you absolutely have the right to represent yourself at trial; you will frequently hear judges repeatedly ask said individuals if they are sure they want to continue unrepresented. The best practice is to find a lawyer who will present your best case.
Some nuances to parentage include the number of participants. That means that sometimes there will be multiple respondents. For example, if a woman is legally married then the child is presumed to be her husband's child. Therefore, if a father wanted to establish parentage, he would need to serve both the mother and the mother's husband before the case can legally proceed.