Paying Child Support for a Non-biological Child

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What Is the Difference between Legal and Biological Paternity?

There is a difference between legal paternity and biological paternity. Biological Paternity means the parent is the child’s biological mother or father. Legal paternity begins when a person signs the birth certificate or acknowledgment of paternity form. Even if the person knows that she or he is not the biological parent, there is no fraud, as this document only concerns the legal relationship between person and child.

The distinction is often important when a biological parent remarries (stepparents) and/or when a child is adopted.

How Can a Parent Be Legally Responsible for a Non-Biological Child?

State law differs, but in most cases, people have between 2 months and 2 years to get a DNA test to remove their name from the birth certificate. If the person fails to do so in the required time period, they will be legally responsible for child support until the child reaches the age of majority, usually 18. The only way they will be excused from child support payments is if the biological parent (or another responsible individual in the court’s discretion) steps up and claims support for the child.

If the person’s name does not appear on the birth certificate, and the child has not been adopted, there is still another way a person may be held liable for child support payments: the theory of "detrimental reliance through promissory estoppel." Basically, when a person holds themselves out to society as the parent, the child comes to believe that she is the child. The child relies on the person, and stops searching for her biological parent. If the person suddenly renounces their parenthood, the child will be psychologically and socially damaged.

A court decision puts it thus, "There is an innate immorality in the conduct of an adult who for over a decade accepts and proclaims a child as his own, but then, in order to be relieved of the child's support, announces, and relies upon, his bastardy."

Can Family Courts Enforce Child Support for Non-Biological Parents?

A fundamental principle in family law is that the needs of the child come first. Family courts have the power of "equity" – to fairly consider all facts and circumstances to reach the best possible solution in the interests of the child. Therefore, if the parent has been supporting the child for a number of years, they will have a very difficult time getting out of child support payments.

Are There Any Defenses?

Establishing biological paternity is the best way for a non-biological parent to avoid child support.

Under promissory estoppel, certain conditions must be met. If any of those conditions are missing, then the doctrine cannot be invoked. With child support for a non-biological child, the child must believe the non-biological person as the child’s parent.

The other requirements are typically met if the child is a minor. If the child were suddenly deprived of a parent, the child would be without support and the state would have to step in. This is usually enough to satisfy the "detrimental reliance" and "results would promote injustice" requirements. However, these factors could still be argued if the child is approaching adulthood and/or is self-sufficient.

Seeking Legal Help

Child support issues can be very complicated, especially with non-biological children. If you need help resolving a child support issue, you should contact a family law attorney.

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Last Modified: 02-01-2017 07:23 PM PST

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