What Happens if You Don’t Respond to Child Custody Papers?

If you and the other parent of your child are in the process of getting a divorce or legal separation, or your ex-spouse wishes to change your existing custody agreement, you may be served with child custody paperwork. It is critical to take these legal documents seriously. If you do not respond within 30 days, the proposed custody arrangement may be approved by the court without your input and go into immediate effect.

What Is the Petition for Custody and Support?

In California, if a child has at least two legal parents, one of the parents can file a motion to request the legal right to care and support the child. This motion is called the Petition for Custody and Support (Form FL-260). It has the power to result in a court order granting one parent custody, visitation and child support.

Once the petition is filed by one parent, the other parent legally must be served with the paperwork, meaning receive a certified copy in person. The petition will show what the requesting parent (the Petitioner) wants the court to decide in terms of parenting time and child support. The Respondent then has 30 days to respond.

What Happens if You Ignore the Child Custody Petition?

If you are served with child custody papers in California, it is important not to dismiss them. Failing to respond does not mean the issue will go away or your co-parent cannot proceed with the case.  

If you ignore the papers and do not respond within your 30-day window, the case will go to court without your input. Failing to respond is the same as stating that you agree with what the Petitioner has asked for.

If you do not respond, you will lose your chance to argue against the proposed child custody and child support plan. Without an official response, a family law judge can sign off on the parenting plan that your ex-spouse created. This is known as a default judgment.

How to Respond to Child Custody Papers in California

If you receive child custody papers and do not agree with the plan that the Petitioner has requested, you must respond by filing a Response (Form FL-270) in the family law court in the county where the original petition was filed. There are a few ways to respond:

  • File an answer with the court. If you disagree with any aspect of the Proposed Judgment, you must file an official Answer to Complaint with the family court. This form will be included with your Summons and Complaint.
  • Sign a stipulation. You may use the Stipulation to Establish or Modify Child Support Order (Form FL-350) to respond and establish child support, medical support for the child and parentage.
  • Genetic testing. If you wish to contest the child custody documents because you do not believe you are the biological parent of the child, you can contact your local county child support agency to arrange the genetic testing process.
  • Come to a written agreement. If you and the other parent have created a written child custody and support agreement, you may choose not to respond and instead opt for a “default with an agreement.” The court will make a decision based on the information submitted by the Petitioner.

No matter which option you choose, you can benefit from hiring a San Diego child custody lawyer to help you issue a timely response and protect your parental rights. A lawyer can ensure you meet the deadline to respond and provide legal support and representation throughout your custody case.