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Out-of-state case illustrates unique child support issue

Most people already know that when it comes to common legal issues, every state has a law in place to help resolve matters. Take for example child support guidelines. Every state has its own set of rules that determine who should pay, how much and for how long. Few people, however, know just how different laws can differ between states.

To see the vast differences in laws regarding similar legal issues, we need only look to a recent case out of Texas where a 45-year-old man was ordered to pay $65,000 in child support arrears despite the fact that genetic testing has proven he is not the child's father. This case not only highlights the difference between California and Texas child support laws, it also illustrates the importance of establishing paternity early in a child's life.

The crux of the case: Texas child support laws

In Texas, the state's family code allows the courts to order child support payments until DNA testing proves a man is not the father. That's why, in this case, the courts were able to order the man to pay child support arrears even though paternity had not been established.

Further complicating the issue is the man's failure to respond to the child support claim, called the Summons and Complaint here in California. According to reports, the man never received the complaint and thus never refuted the mother's claims that he was the child's father. Since he did not respond to the complaint, his paychecks were garnished, which he also did not respond or object to.

How would this case be handled in California?

If you're a father in California and worried a similar outcome might befall you, know that California child support laws work differently than they do in Texas.

Unlike other states, in California, it's necessary to establish paternity before the courts can order a father to pay child support. As we explained in a post last month, there are two ways of establishing paternity in our state: through DNA testing or by signing a Declaration of Paternity. The sooner paternity is established, the sooner paternity issues -- like the one in the case above -- can be resolved.

Individuals do, however, have to respond to a Summons and Complaint within 30 days of receiving the request otherwise the amount of child support indicated in the documents may be ordered by the courts. It is especially important to respond if you are denying paternity.

Understanding your rights is important

While it's important to know and understand your rights, it's more important to recognize when you're out of your depth with a family law matter and in need of legal counsel.

Cases like the one above or any paternity case in general can be incredibly complex because they require a deep understanding of the law. You also have to follow the law to the letter, including responding to court summons within a specific period of time and knowing what evidence to submit to support your claims. This is why it's never considered a bad idea to speak with a skilled family law attorney when facing paternity issues.

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