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I found out that I might be a father when I got served papers for child support... now what?
July 1, 2009 8:11 AM   Subscribe

I found out that I might be a father when I got served papers for child support... now what?

So here is my current situation. I have been divorced for 2 years. Ex-wife move to the east coast and I am currently living in Colorado as an underpaid doctoral grad student. I got served paternity action papers a week ago informing me that my wife had a child 7 months after we filled the papers for divorce. While I am angry that she lied to both me and the courts that she wasn't pregnant at the time(divorce papers state that she isn't expecting a child ect), I realize that now is not the time to get overly emotional about the fact that I was never even given the chance to see my child.

I know I need to first figure out if it really is my child (we got divorced due to my wifes infidelity), so I am going for a genetic test. But after that I really don't know what steps to take. Financially the baby is taken care of. My ex-wife's mother (who is extremely wealthy) is thrilled to have a grandson to take spend money on. Thrilled enough to call me and say that if I try to get any rights to see the child she will make it her personal hobby and the job of her lawyers to make my life miserable until I stop showing up and give up all my rights.

As for me being a part of my child's life... I really want to be there but I don't have the money to fly out there/move out there and my ex-wife's mother made it crystal clear that she wants to force me to be just a paycheck for her child and her grandchild.

I know your not my lawyer but I don't have enough money to get one nor am I poor enough (I am below the poverty line, just not below it enough) to qualify for free legal aid. So here are my questions:


1) What do you think I can do to make sure I have the right to see my child smile on her birthdays and watch her grow up? Legally I have no clue how I will be treated by the courts (I assume that nothing will be in my favor) nor do I have any idea how to effectively stop my ex-wife's mother from harassing me in the future.

2) One of my main fear is that my child support payments will be calculate based on what I am capable of making, not how much my grad school stipend is. Does this happen often? (I think ex-wife's mother will push for something like this).

3) What will fuck me over in the future? Ie what do you think I should be aware about, or something someone wish they would tell you before going through a process like this?

My throw away email address is ytrewq7890@gmail.com. Thanks in advance.
posted by anonymous to Law & Government (30 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
 
nor do I have any idea how to effectively stop my ex-wife's mother from harassing me in the future.

Well, it's only one thing, but I'd start by recording all your phone calls. Right. Now.
posted by rokusan at 8:17 AM on July 1, 2009 [6 favorites]


I can't give you any legal advice, but a huge red flag popped up for me reading your question. Your ex-wife comes from a wealthy family, your ex-MIL has threatened you in regard to having rights to your son/daughter, yet....they are going after you for financial support? Why even let you know you have a child? Why ask for cash if they're so concerned about your involvement in the child's life?

This doesn't add up - something else is going on here. Probably something to figure out as you proceed through this legal process etc. And belated congratulations.
posted by meerkatty at 8:18 AM on July 1, 2009 [7 favorites]


If you are a doctoral grad student my guess is that you can get free legal through the University. Check into it.
posted by fusinski at 8:24 AM on July 1, 2009


You're in for a long road. Just because her family is wealthy does not mean that you'll be exempt from high child support payments.

Learn the term "imputed income" and have it strike the fear of God in you. I'd be looking for a better paying job now.

Don't assume that you'll have no rights to see your child or that the courts will be against you.

Get a loan in order to speak to a lawyer. You need to speak to a lawyer.
posted by fantasticninety at 8:30 AM on July 1, 2009


My intuition tells me that it's not yours. Just a feeling. See just how willing they are to do that paternity matchup.

Remember that there are some lawyers that will take your case pro bono. And, if you need to file a suit or a countersuit, you probably won't have to pay the lawyer for anything unless you win. You ex-MIL may make it her personal mission to harass you, but if you catch her stating such, she may well be guilty of a felony. Don't hesitate to file a criminal complaint.

In short, don't be afraid to fight back, if you need to.

Good luck!
posted by Citrus at 8:33 AM on July 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


My ex-wife's mother (who is extremely wealthy) is thrilled to have a grandson to take spend money on.

What do you think I can do to make sure I have the right to see my child smile on her birthdays and watch her grow up?


It's somewhat odd that you can't get the sex of the child correct.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:35 AM on July 1, 2009 [30 favorites]


Wow, this happened to someone close to me recently (without the vicious MIL stuff) and i know how much of a massive shock to the system it was for them.

I don't have any great advice, just my hopes that you're doing ok, and reassurance not to panic - you'll figure it out with a little help here and there.

Over in the UK we have a thing called the Citizen's Advice Bureau which gave the person I know some very good advice on his situation. Do you habe anything like this you can use? (I'm assuming you're US)

Good luck.
posted by greenish at 8:36 AM on July 1, 2009


Find out about the legality of taping phone calls in your area, but, yeah, if at all possible, record. If you can get them to reiterate about making your life hell, do so.

Evidence of infidelity? Gather, compile, replicate.
posted by adipocere at 8:37 AM on July 1, 2009


by default, if the child is yours, you have rights to liberal visitation. in order to get this restricted, the ex has to find a reason for doing so. your ex's mom is trying to discourage you from excercising those rights.

also, it may be possible that your ex has committed perjury. If she stated that she wasn't pregnant, and she was, then it may be a matter for that juristiction's prosecuting attorney.
posted by lester at 8:38 AM on July 1, 2009


What a horrible, horrible way to find out you (potentially) have a child! Good lord!

OK, I'm not normally among the people who tell you to run and get a laywer NOW - I've done plenty of things on my own, with lots of help from the internet, that people have advised to get legal opinions on - however, in this case you really, really need to see a lawyer. This could have such a monumental impact on your life, particularly financially, that I can't imagine not protecting myself the best way possible.

In particular, the lawyer will tell you if you can do anything w/the 'didn't disclose pregnancy during divorce proceedings' and 'got divorced due to infidelity' angles which seem particularly important here.

Put in your credit cards, get a loan, do whatever it takes to find a good lawyer right away.
posted by widdershins at 8:41 AM on July 1, 2009


should be 'put it on your credit cards'...
posted by widdershins at 8:43 AM on July 1, 2009


First, Document EVERYTHING. You need to document all the calls from the ex-MIL. You need to document all the points of contact with your ex. Keep all documents, legal or otherwise sent between all interested parties.

Second, your divorce proceedings are in your favor. The courts can see from those documents that at the time of the divorce, as far as you knew, you were not a father. With regards to your ex possibly telling lies about being pregnant, you're making a big assumption there. She may NOT have known until after the divorce that she was pregnant. Then, she was faced with "do I tell him or not." So, it is possible she knew and it is possible she did not.

Third, the ex-MIL and her harassment: Tell her to stop all contact with you. Document. If she continues, you can seek a restraining order on her. She's making an incorrect assumption from what you've said. If you do end up terminating your parental rights, then you are no longer a pay check. This also assumes you come back from testing as the confirmed father.

Fourth, if you are the father, be sure to have a lawyer work with you to secure your rights and responsibilities. You can push for visitation, custody, etc. Using all the stuff you document, you can show your willingness to play a role in the child's life to the court. If you secure visitation or some level of custody, then live up to it. If you don't, they can make your life harder. I don't know where your ex lives, but where I live, either parent can take the other to court annually to review the agreement. In short, if you are the father, keep legal counsel until your child turns 18 and work very hard to have a relationship with your child. And remember, if you do, don't get ugly with the child's Mom. Consider her part of a business arrangement and not worth the emotions she and her family may try to evoke in you.

Fifth, if the test shows you are not the father, tell them all to fuck off. (Keep the documents on this forever.)
posted by onhazier at 8:45 AM on July 1, 2009


Your university may offer you legal services for free or at a reduced rate. If they don't, see if the university's law school has a clinic that will help you. Every law school has a clinic, staffed by real lawyers and by students. They take cases like this for free. If they can't take you in the clinic, they can help you find a lawyer who will take the case.

Key- do this quickly! You are working against deadlines, potentially very short ones.
posted by ohio at 8:49 AM on July 1, 2009


Colorado is a one-party consent state for recording telephone conversations so that sounds like a good idea. Get legal advice as soon as possible.

I could have sworn I left a comment stating this before but I probably forgot to hit the post button.
posted by grouse at 8:56 AM on July 1, 2009


Find out about the legality of taping phone calls in your area, but, yeah, if at all possible, record. If you can get them to reiterate about making your life hell, do so.

Possible work-around: become a dedicated call screener.

Let the answering machine or voicemail pick up your calls, then return the ones that aren't from the ex or ex-MIL. It's a slight pain in the ass, but if they are careless enough to make threats or allusions to threats after the beeeep, they'll have a hard time convincing anyone that they were unaware that they were being recorded.
posted by CKmtl at 8:56 AM on July 1, 2009


on non-preview:

Colorado is a one-party consent state for recording telephone conversations so that sounds like a good idea.

If the others live in a two-party state, it gets fuzzier. See Linda Tripp, etc.
posted by CKmtl at 9:00 AM on July 1, 2009


It's somewhat odd that you can't get the sex of the child correct.

I assumed the OP did this on purpose, so as to remain as anonymous as possible.
posted by meerkatty at 9:00 AM on July 1, 2009 [2 favorites]


Well, it's only one thing, but I'd start by recording all your phone calls. Right. Now.

Without notice to all parties, this is an illegal act in some jurisdictions, like mine.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 9:02 AM on July 1, 2009


I assume the poster is mixing up the pronouns to make the situation less identifiable ("grandson" vs. "her birthdays.") If it were me posting, I'd switch up some details for sure. Never hurts to be a skosh paranoid.

I'm just seconding everyone's advice to Document Everything, Lawyer Up, and don't let the bastards grind you down. So sorry this is happening.
posted by Neofelis at 9:02 AM on July 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


Well, it's only one thing, but I'd start by recording all your phone calls. Right. Now.
Without notice to all parties, this is an illegal act in some jurisdictions, like mine.


He's in Colorado, as posted in the question. It's allowed there.
posted by rokusan at 9:04 AM on July 1, 2009


(I am below the poverty line, just not below it enough) to qualify for free legal aid

I'm not sure if you are using "poverty line" colloquially, but in many jurisdictions the threshold for being eligible for legal aid services is somewhat above the poverty line. In Boston, for example, GBLS admits those who make less than 125% of poverty.

Seconding calling your nearest law school to see if there is a family law clinic that can help you. This is not a time to go it alone or seek advice on the internet.
posted by Saucy Intruder at 9:16 AM on July 1, 2009


Wow, my first thought is that this certainly must not have been an amicable divorce if the wife fled to the east coast and her mother hates you so much. BUT. I will assume for the sake of the argument that you are not violent or that you pose a danger to the child in any case (if so- then I would urge you to get help or to legally give up your parental rights, which would absolve you from financial support).

So. The first thing the courts will need to do is ascertain paternity. Make sure that you get on record right away that this is in question. Once it is determined that you ARE the father, I would assume that most states are pretty much the same in determining financial responsibility: it will be based on the average wage you should be bringing in RIGHT NOW. If you are not working at all now, while going to school, it will likely be calculated as a percentage of your area's average minimum wage. But be prepared that once you start a job in your future career path, your ex can petition the court to re-evaluate your monthly obligation, and based on a higher-paying job, your child support will increase.

Now forget about what the ex-mother-in-law wants and what your ex might want as far as rights. If you are determined to be the father and are an upstanding, good person, you will do everything you can to be a part of this child's life. That child growing up will not know- or care- about the bad feelings between you and the mother. That child will want a father! And it is very, very important that you try. This means more than a card at birthdays and your monthly child support payment. Use the court proceedings to establish visitation rights! It is the most important thing you can do for the child.

But also, please remember that if there are problems with visitation (e.g., the mother prevents the child from seeing you), that does not mean that you can withhold the monthly payments. Those are NOT contingient on your visitation.

But again, I would urge you to think of the what the child needs--a father--and not what the ex's want--money, with no complications.

Good luck!
posted by Eicats at 9:19 AM on July 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


Your ex-wife comes from a wealthy family, your ex-MIL has threatened you in regard to having rights to your son/daughter, yet....they are going after you for financial support?

Wealthy people don't get to be wealthy by missing opportunities to get free money.
posted by Krrrlson at 9:25 AM on July 1, 2009 [2 favorites]


Lawyer-up.
Demand a paternity test.
posted by Thorzdad at 9:40 AM on July 1, 2009


Something you may not have thought of: do your best to prepare yourself mentally and emotionally for the possibility (probability?) that this child isn't yours.

Most couples I know that have had contentious splits have stopped having sex long before they officially split. Think realistically how likely it is that the child is yours, especially given her infidelity.

Another reason to do so: I know several people of both sexes that have had either pregnancy scares or doubtful paternity issues that were initially scared shitless but went through an emotional letdown and/or rough patch after learning that they weren't going to be parents. It sounds odd, but it's really pretty common, at least among folks I know.
posted by Ufez Jones at 9:51 AM on July 1, 2009


My recommendation, like others above, is to somehow find a way to afford a lawyer. You need one.

Some of the things you write don't make sense to me, and I wonder if in the whirl of being told you're a father, you've gotten some things confused?

For example, usually paternity is established before a court orders you to pay support. You indicate that you've been ordered to pay support. Are you sure? Take another look at the paperwork -- it's an order from the court? It's a letter from the Attorney General? It's got a specific dollar amount on it, for past-due and monthly payment amounts? It's a letter from her lawyer? Is this the very first piece of paperwork (letter, summons to court, whatever) that you've gotten?

Another example: Your ex-MIL wants you to have nothing to do with the child. That almost sounds like a waiver of paternity/termination of rights to me. She may encourage you to do that, but nobody can force you to do it. Is that what's happening? It's not compatible with a request for support. Does everyone involved (you, your ex, and unfortunately your ex-MIL) understand that?

This must be terribly confusing, to suddenly have this land in your lap. You need a lawyer to tell you what your rights are, and most importantly what your child's rights are. Your child has the right to support from both parents, and has the right to be parented by both parents. You need someone with expertise in this field to help you navigate through the process.
posted by Houstonian at 9:52 AM on July 1, 2009 [2 favorites]


Remember, it's always legal to record a call if you make it clear that the call's being recorded.

If you announce at the beginning of every call that you're recording it, and your ex-MIL doesn't want to be recorded, she'll stop calling.
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:21 AM on July 1, 2009


1. Get a lawyer. Do not attempt to handle this on your own.
2. Demand a paternity test. If it's your child,
3. Get a lawyer. You have rights. Be the child's father. It might be the best thing you ever do.

Oh yeah, did I mention, get a lawyer?
posted by NorthCoastCafe at 10:43 AM on July 1, 2009


I would echo what Houstonian has said. I'm pretty familiar with establishment of paternity in my state, and can't imagine that there is any state where someone can be established as a father, when they aren't married, if they haven't been given notice first.

Are you sure you haven't become what we call a "round file dad"? Those many, many "dads" I see who got established because they threw away paperwork from the state Department of Child Support, not realizing that a non-response within designated timelines meant you became dad by default.

If you have never been served anything, or received an official letter (and I believe this would normally come to you restricted delivery-you would have had to sign for it) and yet you've received a support order-something ain't right here. Which means either you're leaving some pieces of the story out, or your ex is just trying to bluff you into sending money, or somehow the court believes you've been established as dad when, in fact, you haven't.

So, yes, take a paternity test. You should be able to request to do that through your state's department of child support, or at least learn about the process there (I'd call them if you absolutely can't/won't get an attorney. I agree that an attorney is your ideal first step here).

And hey, grandma can threaten all she wants. My experience is courts generally grant at least some visitation to dads, absent clear evidence of danger (convictions for sex abuse, etc), and sometimes even in the presence of evidence of danger. Of course, individual jurisdictions may vary, but I think you'll be able to have visits.

Finally, in my state, a legal parent can't just give up parental rights in order to avoid paying support. The only time you can voluntarily relinquish parental rights is in order to free a child for adoption. The state/society isn't served by folks being able to walk away from their children in such a final sense, especially since it would leave many children even more dependent on government support than they might have been already.
posted by purenitrous at 1:33 PM on July 1, 2009


You should call the attorney who represented you in the divorce. They should be able to help guide you through all that you'll need to do to assure that 1) this child is really yours (DNA testing, STAT!!!) and 2) if it turns out that your ex-wife lied during the divorce proceedings, that these things are brought to the attention of the court.

in the event that you are liable for child support, it is typically based on stated income and assets, never speculative or future income. the fact you are essentially a student, might work to your advantage.

your attorney can also help you make arrangements for visitations. it may also be necessary for the court to appoint a Guardian Ad Litem (GAL), who is a neutral party whose only concern is the welfare of the child. highly recommended, since it sounds like the mother (from what you've told us) may be manipulative and not have the best interests of her child in mind.
posted by kuppajava at 7:43 PM on July 1, 2009


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