Written by attorney Jeffery Michael Haupt

You've Been Defaulted in a Paternity Case, What Do You Do?

Whatever you do, don't NOT do anything! In Indiana (as with most States) time is of the essence in setting aside a default judgment.

Let's first examine how this likely happened. More than likely a Paternity Establishment case was brought by the State in order to establish paternity so that child support can be established. In a perfect world, the State would know exactly where you lived and the paperwork would appear at the correct address, thereby giving you quite a bit of time to respond to the petition and prepare for the hearing.

In reality that's not what happens in most default cases. Many times people have moved around a bit, often due to economic reasons. While the State of Indiana has many great tools when it comes to locating individuals, it is still hard to keep up with everyone and every move they make. The State of Indiana (the Prosecutor's Title IV-D Office) will serve you at the best address they think they have. This "service of process" is done by Sheriff or Private Process Server and usually involves nothing more than the paperwork being left at the door.

If the Court's records show that service was proper (whether you know about the hearing or not) the Court may proceed without you being present. What this means is that the Court will establish paternity without you getting the chance to ask for a genetic test. Once paternity is established the Court will then Order you to pay child support and provide health insurance in some cases. You will have no say in visitation, custody, or last name of the child.

Now that you know how it happens, what do you do when you find out that you were defaulted? You need to be aware that you cannot find out and then not do anything about it. Waiting around a year or two and then deciding that you want to set aside a default judgment will not help your case.

You and your attorney will have to show that you did not have notice of the hearing. This can be done by showing that you did not reside at the place where service happened. If you have utility bills, driver's license, etc., that can show you actually resided elsewhere, this will go along way to helping your case.

You will also need to show that you did not have actual knowledge of the hearing. Just because you didn't receive the paperwork may not work as a valid excuse, if the other party has informed you over and over again about the upcoming court date. If you think you may have a court hearing, check with your county clerk! Many times I've seen motions lost on the fact that the father knew about the hearing, but just didn't receive the actual paperwork.

Finally, remember that even if the Court does allow the default judgment to be set aside, this does not end the case. Rather, you will just get a chance to state your case and seek to present evidence (such as genetic test results) to the Court. At the end of the day, you may find that nothing was different than the default judgment that was entered against you.

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