Sometimes, a petition for child support comes at the end of a failed relationship or marriage. On other occasions, it might come like a bolt out of the blue, leaving the alleged father shocked to learn that he may have a child whom he has never met but for whom he now owes child support.
If you're in the latter group, once you've wrapped your brain around the idea that you might be a father, it's time to do some homework. Whenever there is the slightest doubt about the paternity of the child in question, it is vital to first establish that you are indeed the father. Never make any promises to the mother or sign any agreements until paternity has been established.
You can retain a family law attorney to represent your interests in the matters of child support, custody and visitation. Some people choose to instead work with the California Department of Child Support Services (DCSS) regarding their child support obligations.
While the DCSS can provide many services, including finding noncustodial parents, establishing paternity, filing and enforcing child support orders and collecting and distributing payments, one thing that the DCSS does not do is litigate matters regarding the divorce or determine parental custody and visitation rights.
If you plan to seek visitation or custody of the child for whom you will be paying support or if you need to extricate yourself legally from a bad marriage, it's likely that you will need to retain legal counsel to move forward with your goals regarding your continued role in your child's life.