Time Limits for Seeking Child Support

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All parents are responsible for supporting their children until the age of majority (from 16 to 19, usually 18, depending on the state), whether or not the child lives with them.  Although it is crime for parents willfully to fail to support their children, states usually stay out of the family nucleus until after a dissolution or divorce has occurred. 

The first step in obtaining child support is to locate the parent and establish paternity.  Paternity of the non-supporting parent can be made anytime before the child reaches 18, but usually must be established by then.  The state’s child support enforcement system can step in, even if the parents were never married, to force a parent (usually the father since the mother delivers the baby at a hospital, resulting in records) to take a paternity DNA test based on a reasonable claim. 

Paternity is also established under the Uniform Parentage Act of 2000, which holds that a child born in marriage or 300 days after a divorce is the child of the birthmother and husband.  Fatherhood can also be established when a man signs the birth certificate or other paternity document. 

In many states, if paternity is not established by age 18, then no child support is due.  In some states, such as California, however, there is no statute of limitations on establishing paternity and no statute of limitations on bringing a child support action.  Courts can also award child support back-pay which the parent should have paid if she or he could have afforded it at the time.  Once a court order for child support is obtained, parents usually have from 10 years to life, depending on state, to enforce it. 

In summary, if a baby was born out of wedlock, and no child support judgment was obtained for 15 years, there is still the possibility of obtaining child support for future and past expenses.  If the father made a fortune in a foreign country, for example, the goal would be to find him somewhere in the United States, and bring him in for a DNA test based on the mother’s reasonable testimony and proof. 

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Last Modified: 06-21-2012 03:52 PM PDT

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