Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Paternity: If You Get Served with A Paternity Petition and a Summons

Someone asked me today how to answer a Summons in a paternity case. I cannot fault him too much for wanting to answer the Summons.

In civil suits, the defendant has 20-23 days to file an Appearance and Answer or Appearance and Motion for Extension of Time, or face a default judgment. In family law cases, a Summons must accompany a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage or a Petition to Determine Paternity (and some other petitions, too). The requirement about responding to these Petition is one crucial difference between the procedure in family law cases and civil suits. You do not file a timely Answer in a civil suit, then default judgment may be entered against you. Not so in family law cases.

The Summons announces to the recipient their obligation to Answer the civil Complaint, but the Summons generally used does not distinguish between civil suits and family law cases. Delaware County has an online form for Dissolution of Marriage Summonses (and that is in PDF format) and even this form does not clearly explain what one has to do after getting served with the Summons and Petition:

You must appear in opposition to the Petition in writing, by you or your attorney, within twenty (20) 2 days commencing the day after you receive this summons, or a Dissolution of Marriage and/or Order of Support will entered granting what the Petitioner has demanded at the expiration of the statutory period.
Clear as mud but better than using the more common civil Summons (also in PDF format). In paternity cases (and divorce cases), the important thing is not answering the Petition but in showing up for the hearing.
IC 31-14-8-2
Default order against alleged father failing to appear at hearing
31-14-8-2 Sec. 2. If a man who is the alleged father in a paternity action under this article fails to appear for a hearing relating to the man's paternity, the court shall enter a default order against the man upon a showing that the man received notice of the hearing.
As added by P.L.1-1997, SEC.6.
I have not used the Summonses provided by the County Clerk for over ten years. The forms went into the word processor and have stayed there. I think most law offices have also put the Summonses into their word processors. Those that have not done so, should. I suggest that they also change the language on responding to the Petition to match the language of the statutes. It would save a lot of time, consternation and possibly grief for the responding party.

For those who receive a Summons and Petition to Establish Paternity: 1) get a lawyer; and 2) show up for your hearings.

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