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Filing for Child Support When Parent’s Location Is Unknown

SupportWhen you petition the court for child support, one of the things the court asks for is the address of both parents. So, what do you do if you don’t know where the other parent is? A parent is not relieved of his or her parental responsibilities merely because he or she can’t be located. However, not knowing the parent’s location may make it difficult for the court to enter an order, and even more difficult for the court to enforce an order.

For every child support case in Virginia, the court is required to serve the opposing party with notice of the petition for support and a summons for the date of the hearing. For a cost, a private investigator can be used to find the most recent addresses for the opposing party. Then, you can list the most reliable of those addresses on the petition and attempt service to that address. You may choose to allow the court to serve the papers or you can hire a private process server to serve them. The court uses the sheriff’s department for service and it may take longer than preferable for them to complete service, which is why you might consider hiring a private process server.

The Virginia Code lists several ways for service to be effectuated on a resident of the state, and they are listed in order of preference; meaning that the serving party needs to try each method in order.

  1. Personal Service. This means that the papers are handed directly to the opposing party.
  2. Substitute Service. Service can be delivered to the home where the opposing party lives and left in the hands of any person also residing there as long as that person is 16 years of age or older; the recipient must also be told to pass the documents along to the opposing party.
  3. Posted Service. A copy may be posted at the front door (or main entrance) of the party’s usual abode. If this method is used, a copy of the papers must also be mailed to the opposing party at this address no less than ten days prior to the court hearing. The mailing must be certified with the court.

If the opposing party is a nonresident, service by publication in a local newspaper may be used in limited circumstances. The serving party must be able to show that due diligence was used in an attempt to locate the opposing party and serve him or her, but it was unsuccessful. Additionally, the serving party must show that the last known residence of the opposing party was in the jurisdiction in which service is sought, and the sheriff held the service for 21 days and was unable to make service. If all of those things are shown, the court will issue an order of publication. The party may publish the service by publication in a newspaper (the court or clerk of court will decide which newspaper to use). The service must run in the paper at least once per week for four successive weeks. It must also be posted at or near the front door to the courthouse. Finally, a copy of the order or publication must be mailed to the last known address of the opposing party.

Once the order has been run for the requisite time, the clerk of the court will file a certificate in the case file stating that the publication requirements have been met.

If the opposing party does not appear at the hearing after service by one of the above methods, the court may issue a child support order based on the evidence submitted by the party who did appear. This means that the opposing party may be ordered to pay a monthly child support amount, even if he or she never appears at the courthouse. Subsequently, if the opposing party fails to comply with the court’s order, the other party can file a show cause with the court asking for enforcement and potentially jail time for failure to abide by the court’s order.

Unfortunately, each show cause filed with the court will also need to be properly served, making the process slow and sometimes expensive.

The good news is, a court order for child support does not expire; meaning past due balances are not forgiven or waived when the child emancipates.

If you have a child support case involving a parent whose whereabouts are unknown, be sure to consult with an experienced family law attorney. Livesay & Myers, P.C. has a team of experienced attorneys across offices in Fairfax, Leesburg, Manassas and Fredericksburg, representing clients across Northern Virginia. Contact us to schedule a consultation today.

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