SUMMONS AND COMPLAINT
Every court action starts with some type of “initiating” document. These are usually called a petition or a complaint. In government actions, a case is started by filing a complaint. The complaint is served on the would-be obligor along with another document called a summons. The latter document is what calls you into court and tells you if you don’t answer, then the court will issue an adverse judgment against you. The package together is called a Summons & Complaint (S&C).
In almost all civil litigation, the defendant/respondent does not know what the judgment is going to look like (they will have an idea what the plaintiff/petitioner is asking for, but the judgment preparation comes much later). Not so in the governmental child support context. Along with the S&C, our office will serve the Respondent with a Proposed Judgment. If you fail to respond, that proposed judgment becomes the judgment (the only difference being instead of saying “this is a proposed judgment,” it will now say, “this is a judgment. It is now legally binding.”).
For the obligor parent to get a court hearing, the parent served with the Summons & Complaint must file an Answer (Response). Failure to do so, as mentioned above, will result in the “proposed judgment” becoming the “judgment” via a process called “default.” The obligor parent can file an answer to challenge paternity, amount of child support, etc. (if you want to challenge jurisdiction, it is suggested you go the court’s self-help center and get advice; otherwise, you may inadvertently consent to jurisdiction). There is nothing stopping you from filing the answer while working with DCSS to resolve the matter via stipulation. The Answer protects you from a judgment being filed against you without your consent or without a court hearing.
MODIFICATION OF CHILD SUPPORT ORDERS
All orders for child support must include a wage and earnings assignment order (also called an Income Withholding Order (IWO)), requiring the paying parent’s employer to deduct support payments from his/her salary or wages. The local child support agencies have the power to issue IWOs administratively, i.e., they need not get court’s permission to issue an IWO. The parents may also be ordered to provide private health insurance for their child(ren) if it is available to them at no cost or reasonable cost through their employment or union affiliation (reasonable cost is 5% of income or less).
Either parent can request our office to review his/her case for modification. The child support order may be modified anytime there has been a change in circumstances to one of the guideline factors, such as visitation percentage, income, or a new biological or adopted child residing in your home. Based on financial and other information provided to our office we will determine if a modification for a higher or lower amount is recommended. Both parents will be informed of our decision.
If one or more of the children change their primary residence to that of the paying parent, both parents should contact DCSS immediately to commence a modification of the order. If one or more of your children resided with you during a period that you were billed to pay child support for them, you may be able to request relief from the court for the arrears that accumulated during that time if they continue to remain owing. To be considered for this type of relief, you must file your own request with the court (the court has no authority to modify support retroactively, but there is a process to forgive arrears for period where obligor had primary care; this relief is called request for Jackson credits). If you need assistance, you should contact the Riverside Superior Court Self-Help Services Department. If the non-custodial parent is or will be incarcerated for 60 consecutive days or more, the non-custodial parent may request to lower his/her current support order. This is based on inability to pay. If you were incarcerated for a past period – 90 days or more – then you can ask that your incarceration period be reviewed for cancellation (this is per Family Code section 4007.5 and this code section has changed quite a bit through the years; thus, different rules apply for different periods of incarceration).