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Can I File a Petition for Child Support without a Lawyer?

By Sarah Jacobs, Esq.

Parents who anticipate opening or modifying a child support case often have concerns about the cost of litigation—and with good reason. If you’re already supporting your child financially on your own, without little or no contribution from your co-parent, facing legal fees to help obtain or enforce that support can feel daunting. 

When uncertainties arise about the amount of child support your child should receive, cutting back on spending wherever possible may feel like an obvious next step. With so much information about the New Jersey Court System accessible online, When the budget already feels stretched, you might wonder if self-representation could be an appealing option to avoid the costs associated with hiring a lawyer. 

However, we ask you to think about the options. Retaining a lawyer, if you are able, can significantly de-stress your child support matters and provide you answers to questions you might not know you have. 

Can a parent seek a child support order without a lawyer? 

Technically, yes. It is possible to seek a child support order without legal support. The underlying question, though, is really: should a parent seek child support payments or child support enforcement without a family law attorney?

“Going it alone” may seem easier and potentially financially more achievable in the short term, but filing a child support petition without a lawyer may not be in your best interest—or your child’s, either. Attempting to file a petition for child support without the guidance of an experienced attorney who understands the nuance of the New Jersey child support laws could jeopardize the outcome of your child support case

New Jersey law does not prevent you from going to the courthouse and filing your own application seeking child support, child custody, or parenting time,  but the state’s family court system is complex. 

The Court holds someone who chooses to represent themselves to the same standard as litigants who have attorneys, so it may not be beneficial to navigate the system without help. 

What to consider before filing without a child support lawyer 

The court clerk may explain and answer questions about the specific procedures in family court, like deadlines and what packet to fill out, but court staff is not allowed to offer legal advice. You should expect the clerk to remain neutral about the facts related to your child support case and what might happen if you bring it to court.

When you choose to represent yourself in family court, you become responsible for: 

  • Locating the most up-to-date version of all forms
  • Filling out paperwork accurately and on time
  • Delivering paperwork to the right people in the right format
  • Properly informing your co-parent when you are requesting a motion to be heard 
  • Maintaining all relevant legal records (i.e., copies of signed orders, written agreements, judgments of divorce, Case Information statements, etc.) 
  • Meeting all court deadlines 
  • Collecting and presenting evidence to support your request
  • Negotiating on your own behalf
  • Representing yourself in the courtroom, if necessary 
  • Following all court rules, even if you’re not familiar with them

Some parents may choose to go this route, but finding the time to build a child support case alone may be stressful and overwhelming.  

A child support lawyer does more than paperwork

In addition to taking confusing paperwork off your plate, a family law attorney can strengthen your child support case by: 

  • Being a knowledgeable resource and explaining the legal issues involved in your case
  • Giving a step-by-step description of the litigation process 
  • Outlining and helping you collect the exact evidence you need to support your child support case
  • Leveraging years of experience to offer legal advice
  • Estimating the amount of child support your children may be entitled to by running model child support guidelines and knowing when they may not be applicable to your family and how to adjust for that circumstance
  • Negotiating on your behalf to minimize time spent in court litigation 
  • Using extensive knowledge of the law to protect your rights 

There are other benefits to working with a family law attorney that you may not be aware of. Your child support lawyer can help in myriad ways, including the ones described below. 

Catch details you might not on your own 

Child support lawyers are deeply familiar with the nuances of the child support guidelines and the factors judges consider before making a child support order. 

You may not realize that public assistance, health insurance costs, or work-related childcare costs are relevant to your case, but attorneys do. A child support lawyer will include these details and many others in your application because they could affect how much money your co-parent is ordered to pay each month, or if you’re the paying parent, how much your obligation should be modified if changes in circumstances have occurred.  

Advocate for your rights

While the New Jersey Courts website contains a great deal of information, reading about child support matters online is no match for decades of first-hand experience. 

Without a seasoned family law attorney’s support, you may not be fully aware of your rights in the state of New Jersey. If the other parent chooses to retain an experienced family law attorney, you may feel disadvantaged in negotiations. 

Request all benefits your children are entitled to 

Depending on the unique facts involved in your case, your child support lawyer may be able to negotiate something that fits your family’s needs, even if the judge couldn’t order that specific relief.  

Did you know that your co-parent could be ordered to pay for unreimbursed health expenses, health insurance, or even life insurance for the benefit of your children? Depending on your specific circumstances, your former spouse or co-parent might also be ordered to pay for work-related childcare expenses. 

Reduce the likelihood of lengthy litigation

When it comes to child support, custody, and parenting time, sometimes a little creative problem-solving goes a long way. 

If you’re able to work with your co-parent to reach an agreement regarding the factors required by New Jersey’s Child Support Guidelines (or if you can agree on how to deviate from them), the resulting child support order will be much more suited to your family’s unique needs. 

Family law attorneys are highly skilled, creative negotiators. They offer crucial support to parents who are discussing child support payments in mediation or another form of Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR)

These methods can prevent your child support case from going to court, saving time, money, and stress for both parents. 

Provide confidence the process is done correctly 

Your child support order will affect your family’s financial well-being for years to come. 

Find a lawyer that cares for your family’s peace of mind as much as your legal matter. In the end, you’ll have greater confidence that your child support case is being handled in compliance with the guidelines for the best possible outcome. 

Contact Our Child Support Lawyers Today

As you can see, pursuing a court order for child support payments takes a great deal of time, attention to specific detail, persistence, and willingness to figure things out on your own. 

In our experience, navigating this process without the guidance of an experienced child support lawyer isn’t impossible—but it is stressful and time-consuming. 

At Jacobs Berger, we believe that each case we take is an opportunity to help shape our clients’ futures. We take the time to understand your unique needs and concerns so we can help you find the right path forward for your family, just as we have done for innumerable clients in New Jersey towns like Randolph, Morristown, East Hanover, Rockaway, Madison, Dover, Denville, and around Morris County. 

Our empathetic family law attorneys have decades of experience in: 

  • Seeking child support orders 
  • Child support modification
  • Child support enforcement 
  • Negotiating the amount of child support your child receives 
  • Individuals being ordered to pay too much child support 
  • Child support termination

To schedule a strategic planning session with one of our experienced team members regarding your particular case, please contact us online.

Contact Our Morristown Attorneys Today

At Jacobs Berger, our attorneys are experienced in protecting our clients across Madison, Randolph, Tewksbury, Morristown, and the greater Morris County area in all family law-related issues.

To schedule a strategic planning session with one of our experienced team members regarding your particular case, please contact us online or through our Morristown, NJ office at (973) 354-4506.