Filing a Paternity Complaint
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What is a Paternity Complaint?
A paternity complaint is a basically a civil lawsuit for the purpose of proving whether a person is the father of the named child or children. Also called a “paternity action”, a paternity lawsuit involves several steps, and not all persons are always allowed to file such a complaint. Paternity laws can also vary greatly from state to state.
In the majority of cases, it is the child’s mother that is filing a paternity complaint in order to determine paternity. However, many other persons can file a paternity complaint, such as a man seeking to prove that a different person is the child’s father.
What are the Steps for Filing a Paternity Complaint?
The steps for filing a paternity complaint are basically similar to other types of civil suits. When filing a paternity complaint, the party bringing the lawsuit is usually responsible for:
- Filing the required court forms
- Providing supporting documents
- Paying any court filing fees
- Serving the other party with a court summons and a copy of the complaint
The last point is known as providing “notice”, which means informing the other party that a lawsuit has been filed and that their presence is being requested for the court hearings that are to follow. Failing to inform the opposing party can result in serious consequences, such as having the paternity complaint dismissed.
When Can a Paternity Complaint be Filed?
In most cases, a paternity action needs to be filed while the alleged father is still alive, prior to their death. This is for the purpose of allowing the alleged father a fair chance to present their defense, whether they are arguing for or against paternity.
If the father is already deceased, or becomes deceased while the lawsuit is underway, paternity can sometimes still be established. For example, the court might honor any affirmative steps the alleged father had taken to acknowledge paternity prior to their death (such as putting their name on the child’s birth certificate).
In most states, the child must already be born before the parties can proceed with filing a paternity complaint. However, it is becoming increasingly common for courts to allow for a pre-natal paternity test, which means that the paternity complaint may be filed before the child is born.
What Does “Standing” Mean When Filing a Paternity Complaint?
“Standing” refers to which persons are allowed to file a paternity complaint. Only certain categories of people can file a paternity complaint; such persons are said to have legal “standing” to file a paternity complaint.
The rules covering standing in a paternity suit may vary by jurisdiction. Some states allow anyone to file a paternity complaint on behalf of a child. However, most jurisdictions classify the following persons as having standing to file a paternity complaint:
- The child’s mother, or the mother of an expected child
- A person alleging that they are the child’s biological father
- A person alleging that they are the biological father of an expected child
- The child themselves (there may be limitations here, such as age)
- Both the mother and father of the child, when voluntarily filing a paternity action together
- A government social services agency that is interceding in cases involving child neglect or child needs
- The prosecutor’s office, when intervening in cases involving child neglect or child needs
Again, you may wish to check the local rules in your area to determine who is qualified for filing a paternity complaint. If you are unsure, you may wish to contact a lawyer for more assistance.
How Can a Lawyer Help When Filing a Paternity Complaint?
Filing a paternity complaint often involves many complicated steps and procedures. The process involves much paperwork, and not all people may be allowed to file the complaint. If you need help filing a paternity complaint, a family lawyer in your area will be able to guide you through the process, and represent you in court during the hearings.
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Last Modified: 07-20-2015 10:16 AM PDT
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