Responding to the Custody / Paternity Papers
If you have been served with a summons and complaint for custody or paternity, there are things you must do to participate in the case. If you do nothing, the other parent may be able to get a final order without you. This page explains important information you should know, deadlines you must follow, and forms you must file once you have been served.
This page explains what to do if you have been served with the very first papers to start a custody or paternity case (a "complaint" and "summons"). If you were served with a motion from the other person, there are different papers you can use to respond to the motion. If you received a motion, please visit How to Respond to a Motion for more information about how to oppose those motions.
Ignoring the papers will not make the case go away. In fact, once you are served with a summons and complaint, you only have 21 calendar days to file your own papers in response. If you do not, the court could enter a default against you, and the other parent may be able to get everything they asked for in their complaint. This page will explain the steps you need to take to respond to a complaint for custody or paternity.
Make sure you understand the basic custody concepts so you can decide what to do. Visit the Custody Overview page for more information.
Step 1. Read the Complaint
You first need to figure out what the other parent is asking for out of the case. Read the Complaint. Don’t worry, the judge has not ordered anything yet – the complaint just tells you what the other parent is asking for as part of the case. You may agree with some, all, or none of the complaint. Write down next to each paragraph in the complaint whether you agree or disagree with what that paragraph says.
If you agree with everything the other parent is asking for, you may not need to file anything. Talk to the other parent about signing a joint Decree of Custody or Paternity. Or, you can do nothing and the other parent will get a default order that includes everything requested in their complaint. But if you disagree with anything the other parent is asking for, you will need to file a response.
If you are unsure what to do, it is always best to talk to a lawyer. Visit Find Legal Help for information on lawyers and free / low-cost legal help.
Step 2. Fill Out Papers to Respond to the Case
You only have 21 calendar days after being served to file your papers. If you were served more than 21 days ago, you may be able to request an extension with your court.
To respond to the case, you will need to file these forms:
- Answer (and Maybe a Counterclaim)
- Financial Disclosure Form
Answer (and Maybe a Counterclaim)
FILL OUT ONLY ONE OF THE ANSWER FORM OPTIONS BELOW. You have two choices when responding to the custody papers.
File an Answer only. This is the "short form" option.
The complaint will have numbered paragraphs with each item about the custody case requested separately. Your "Answer" tells the judge and the other parent what parts of the complaint you agree with and disagree with. For instance, you might agree with paragraphs 1, 2, 3, 7, 8 of the complaint, but disagree with paragraphs 4, 5, 6. Write that in the Answer. You do not have to explain why. This lets the judge and the other parent know what issues will need to be dealt with.
File an Answer with a Counterclaim. This is the "long form" option that lets you make a counterproposal.
The "Answer" (described above) tells the judge and the other parent what you agree and disagree with from the complaint. You can also include a "Counterclaim" where you can tell them specifically what you want the judge to order (like the Plaintiff did) Your counterclaim lets the judge know your preferred custody, visitation, and child support orders, and you can indicate if a DNA test might be needed to confirm the father.
Financial Disclosure Form ("FDF")
You (and the other parent) have to file a Financial Disclosure Form within 30 days of when you file your Answer. It is best to file it with your Answer so you do not forget later.
The Financial Disclosure Form, or “FDF,” gives information about your employment, your income, and your expenses. You do not need to complete the "Personal Asset and Debt" information in this form. The information on this form helps the judge determine child support and any other financial issues. If you do not fill out this form completely and accurately, the court may rule against you.
You must attach your three most recent paystubs to this form.
Step 3. File Your Papers
After you fill out the papers above, you will need to file them with the same district court where the complaint was filed. Visit Find My Court if you are not sure where to find the district court.
The court will charge you a filing fee to file your papers. The fee is different in every county. Find out from the court what the filing fee will be.
If you cannot afford the filing fee, please see Filing Fees and Waivers to find out how to ask the court to waive the fee
Step 4. Serve the Plaintiff
A copy of your answer/counterclaim (and anything else you filed) must be sent to the Plaintiff. It is up to YOU to make sure Plaintiff gets served after you file these papers. The Court does not serve the papers for you.
After you file, mail a copy of your answer/counterclaim (and anything else you filed) to the Plaintiff or their attorney if they have one. You can send it by regular mail.
Fill out a Certificate of Mailing and file it with the court.
There are a number of things that will happen after you file your Answer. You may have to file some additional papers, and the judge will schedule a hearing that both of you must attend. This page will explain the different things that might happen next in your case.