Attorney Eric D. Puryear

How to Handle Being Served with Child Custody Papers

Puryear Law » Legal Blog » Family Law in General » How to Handle Being Served with Child Custody Papers

A person who is served with papers for a child custody case is often shocked and upset by the situation.  Handing things the right way during that upsetting time is important, as missteps can result in lasting harm to a person’s child custody situation.


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Each custody case is commenced by serving of papers upon the other parent.  The legal system calls the parent whose attorney filed the case the “Petitioner” and the parent who received the papers the “Respondent.”  Those terms will be used throughout this article. Having papers served is a necessary part of a custody case, and so it is best not to take it personally (as hard as that can be).  Service of process is designed by our legal system to ensure that the Respondent properly gets the papers and is aware of the court case.  It would certainly be unfair for the court to take action in a child custody case if the Respondent wasn’t even aware that there was a case pending.

When served with papers, it is important that a Respondent not take any action that will bring harm to the custody case.  For example, in most states (including Iowa and Illinois), a person who engages in domestic violence will be less likely to receive custody from the court.  Thus, an act of rage after being served with papers can have long-lasting negative effects.  Similarly, posting negative things about the other parent on Facebook, or engaging in a text message argument can also reflect negatively upon a person with a pending custody case.  Since such action cannot help the situation, but can certainly harm it, a person who has been served with custody papers in Illinois or Iowa is well advised to refrain from such actions entirely.

The right course of action after being served with custody papers is to take a moment (or two) to collect your thoughts, and then seek an attorney who handles child custody cases.  Doing so is the best way of protecting your legal rights as a parent and ensuring the best possible outcome to the custody case.  Doing so without delay is critical, as the early events in a custody case can be of great importance in terms of the ultimate outcome of the custody case.


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