A paternity action refers to unmarried individuals who are the parents of a child or children. Sometimes the parents will have lived together for a period of time, and in other circumstances, a DNA test may be necessary to identify the biological father. Regardless, once parentage is established, rights and responsibilities regarding custody, visitation, child support, and other minor issues need to be determined. Without an order solidifying these rights and responsibilities, a parent will be unable to enforce his or her rights.
Custody & Visitation
Custody and visitation tends to be the most important issue for parents. There are two separate and distinct types of custody in Utah: 1) physical custody and 2) legal custody. Physical custody is based off of overnights at each parent’s residence. Legal custody grants the right for a parent to have access to information and to be involved in decision-making in their child’s life. Each type of custody will be arranged as either sole, joint, or split.
Where custody is contested and the parties cannot agree on a parenting schedule and custodial arrangement, the court usually orders a custody evaluation to assist in determining what is in the best interest of the children. Custody evaluations are conducted by court-appointed experts who interview the children and spouses, observe their interactions, and may conduct psychological testing.
Having a qualified family law attorney assist you with your goals for custody and visitation will prevent unintentional mistakes or consequences not in the best interest of your children. An honest, open discussion with your attorney will also manage your expectations and give you a road map for navigating through the tense and often worrisome times while you adjust to shared parenting.
Under Utah law, a child support obligation is calculated based on the parent’s gross monthly incomes, the number of minor children, and the custodial arrangement. Typically, the parent who has sole or primary physical custody is awarded child support from the other parent. In situations of underemployment, unemployment, self-employment, or multiple income sources, determining a parent’s gross monthly income can be complicated. A parent who pays alimony or child support to another person will also be able to adjust his or her gross monthly income by deducting those amounts.
In addition, parents will likely share the out-of-pocket expenses incurred on behalf of the minor children for medical, dental, or day care costs. Reimbursement to the party who pays for these services is considered part of child support and is the duty of each parent.
Having an attorney guide you through the statutory requirements and circumstances unique to your case in establishing or defending against a child support award will simplify the divorce action and ensure that your rights are protected.
Two Approaches to Resolve Paternity Cases
There are essentially two approaches to a paternity case 1) an uncontested approach, or 2) a contested approach.
An uncontested approach essentially means that the parties do not wish to go to court and argue over any of the issues discussed above. Rather, these parents are able to determine for themselves and agree on how to resolve the various issues. At times this can be accomplished simply by having a family law attorney draft the necessary paperwork (which at a minimum will be 8 separate documents with varying purposes and requirements) and filing it with the court. Usually a reasonable flat fee may be charged for this service which keeps costs low during a financially stressful time.
Although not strictly necessary, if each party obtains an attorney, it is possible for the attorneys to assist the parties create and execute a settlement and file it with the court. In other circumstances, the parties may desire to attend mediation in order to avoid the need to litigate in court. Mediation provides a formal dispute resolution setting sometimes helpful if the issues are complicated, or if the parties need a neutral third-party to assist with the communication between parties.
A contested paternity action occurs when one party files a petition with the court and serves it on the other party along with a Summons requiring him or her to file a formal answer no later than 20 days (if served in Utah) or 30 days (if served outside of Utah) from the date served.
In some circumstances, after filing an answer, the parties may be able to work towards a settlement and avoid the need to appear before a judge. However, there may be a need to seek the court’s assistance in making certain temporary orders at the outset of the case which will govern the parties during the proceedings.
Unfortunately, in highly contested actions, a paternity action may last for many months as your attorney prepares for trial by gathering evidence and questioning the opposing party and other witnesses as needed. It is absolutely crucial for a party to hire an attorney who navigates through the case wisely and efficiently so the best possible outcome can be obtained without unnecessary contention or expense.
The family law attorneys at Dexter & Dexter are committed to excellent representation regardless of whether the case is contested or uncontested. Because they specialize in family law, they are equipped with knowledge and advice that can greatly reduce the stresses involved and ensure the best possible outcome.