Single parents: Collecting Child Support
Collecting child support can be a difficult thing – whether your ex-spouse can be found or not. Many times, just hiring an attorney is not sufficient. You may have to hire other professionals to help find the dead-beat spouse (both moms and dads can be dead-beats).
A single parent can file a motion for child support at any time. There does not have to be a divorce in progress and there does not have to be a Final Judgment, though the processes are slightly different. If there is not an open divorce or there has already been a final judgment entered, in most states, you must file a new petition. If there is a divorce in progress, in most cases, you only need to file a motion.
If you know where the mother or father is, but he is not able to be served (he hides from the process server), once a reasonable amount of time has passed, you can file by newspaper notification. This process of serving takes more time than regular service, as, depending on local rules, the notification must be published for a certain amount of time.
If you do not know where the mother or father is, you must make an attempt to find him or her, then you can publish the notice in a local newspaper in the city of his or her last known address.
In cases where child support was ordered, but the payor is not paying, you must file a motion for contempt. This alerts the court that there was a court order regarding child support entered, but the payor is not paying. If an order was previously entered regarding child support, you may have to hire a private detective to find the payor. Once found, a petition may be served on him or her, including a request for attorney’s fees and costs and the cost of the private detective. There is no guarantee that you will get reimbursed, but if you do not ask for it in the petition, in most states, you are barred from asking for it later in the process.
Depending on your income, there are a couple of ways to go through the court system. The best way is to retain an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, ask the clerk of court for information regarding Legal Services. There are attorneys who will work on a pro bono basis (free) and there are attorneys who will handle your case for a fee based on your income. Most courts will have a list of these attorneys.
If you absolutely cannot afford an attorney, ask the clerk of court for their legal help department. They often have forms you can fill out yourself and file with the court.
If you need to hire a private investigator, you will generally have to come up with the funds yourself, even though there is a possibility that the court may order the payor to reimburse you.
In all cases, when dealing with professionals, interview at least three before making a choice – and keep in mind that the cheapest is not always the best. Before the consultation, be sure you have a list of questions to ask the attorney. Their answers will help you make a decision on which one to hire. The attorney is going to learn quite a bit about your personal life, so you must also be able to get along with the attorney. Part of that is knowing that the attorney’s work will be satisfactory to you.
If want to hire an attorney, but cannot make a decision (it can be, after all, expensive to hire an attorney), you can call the state’s bar association for recommendations.
An attorney who requests a consult fee will more than likely be willing to spend some time with you during the consult, instead of trying to convince you to hire him in the 10 minutes he has allotted for you. Most attorneys who charge a consultation fee are willing to spend at least a half an hour with you, which gives you time to ask questions – and gives the attorney time to ask you pertinent questions about your case.
Always, when in doubt – contact the clerk of court or the state bar association to get help in choosing the proper professional. If you have friends who have previously gone though a domestic relations case, you might ask them for their input on attorneys. Your friends will tell you whether they had a good or bad experience with their attorney.