Paternity is the legal process utilized by the court to determine the child’s biological father. Until the court establishes paternity, the child’s father does not have any rights or responsibilities to the child.

This means that there is no duty to pay child support or the right to demand custody or visitation with the child. Either parent can request the court to establish paternity, or the court may open a paternity case on its own.

What is the Acknowledgment of Paternity?

A child born to unmarried parents does not automatically have a legal father. To establish paternity, a biological father can either acknowledge paternity in writing through what is sometimes called an affidavit of parentage or both parents can agree to paternity. After a father is established, he must pay child support. Paternity can be established in one of three ways:

  • By marital presumption;
  • By signing an Affidavit of Parentage at the time a child is born; or
  • By judicial declaration also known as a court order, establishing an alleged father as the legal father.

What Occurs During the Paternity Case?

Paternity cases, sometimes referred to as parentage actions, usually start when either parent or a state prosecutor files a formal request with a court to establish paternity. Acknowledged or alleged fathers do not have custodial or visitation rights with their children until the judge issues a court order about paternity. It is common for the father to file the paperwork to do so.

Nowadays, a simple blood test is often all the court needs to prove paternity. DNA or other blood tests are approximately 99.9% accurate at determining the child’s biological father. If a court establishes paternity, the judge will order the father to pay child support for the child and award him custody or visitation rights.

In some cases, the wrong person can be deemed the father of a child. For instance, a husband can later discover that he is not the father of his child or someone who mistakenly thought he was the father signed an acknowledgment of paternity. Since paternity creates financial responsibilities, men can seek to disestablish paternity or challenge paternity.

But some issues arise with both divorce and annulment, especially if there are children involved. A child’s right to be supported by both of his or her parents is valid regardless of the parent’s marital status. Upon divorce or annulment, a court may order the presumptive father to pay child support or award him custody rights to the child.

What are the Grounds for Challenging Paternity?

Many paternity proceedings rely on medical evidence to prove who the biological father is. Generally, these tests are accurate, but sometimes they may produce erroneous results regarding a child’s parentage. State laws differ from state to state as to the grounds they accept to challenge a paternity test.

Below are grounds for challenging a prior finding of paternity and items that may be examined in a paternity-related court case:

  • Tainted lab results, meaning if evidence there have been prior errors in lab results and verify the routinely substandard work;
  • Fraudulent lab results, if there is evidence that the opposing party sent someone else to take the lab test on his behalf;
  • Proof of infertility or sterility;
  • Proof that the genetic testing or another type of test results were tampered with;
  • Proof of the mother’s infidelity in marriage; and
  • The date of the child’s birth, measured against the potential time of conception and the typical development cycle of children.

What are the Steps to Challenge Paternity?

A suit to challenge paternity is similar to one establishing paternity. Each state has its different method of starting a lawsuit. Some states will take into consideration how many years have passed with a father listed on a birth certificate or with the child believing a certain man is their father. The more time that has passed, the harder it is to challenge paternity due to the emotional and psychological effects it may have on the child.

The first step is to file a complaint with the court. Once the complaint is filed, the court may order one or more DNA testing for the father and the child to seek evidence from other sources in determining the biological father of the child. This other evidence may include but is not limited to medical documents discrediting paternity or if the true father decides to voluntarily acknowledge paternity.

Blood tests may also be used to assist in determining whether the alleged father is biologically related to the child, but blood tests alone cannot show who the father is. However, DNA tests are considered one of the most accurate ways of determining paternity. At the end of the process, the court will issue an order naming the legal father. The parents must then meet to figure out child support and child custody logistics.

What are the Consequences of not Challenging Paternity?

If the person suggested or assumed as a father does not contest the situation, he may end up supporting the youth even if he has no blood relation to him or her. Keep in mind that if the mother does not want him in the child’s life, he may only need to provide monetary support.

However, it is crucial to contest these circumstances if there is no possibility of visitation or custody arrangements to spend time with the child. The mother may need access to the true father’s results, but this is not helpful if the individual is not the blood father. Other issues may arise if the lab connected with the suit for paternity submits the wrong results.

Additionally, a court professional attached to the case can accidentally name the wrong person. In this event, the individual will still need to pay support if he does not contest the paternity results. In these scenarios, the person may have no connection to the entire family and should immediately contest the matter to prevent the courts from this incident from occurring. The primary issue in no contest of paternity is that the individual attached to the child and the mother may have no relation or connection as to being a father for the young child.

Why Should You Establish Paternity?

Once paternity is established, the parent-child bond is recognized between the child and the father. The father is deemed responsible for the support of the minor child until the child reaches the age of majority. However, under Iowa rules, the mother of a child born out of wedlock whose paternity has not yet been acknowledged and who has not yet been adopted automatically has sole custody of the child unless a court orders otherwise.

This implies that even if a judgment of paternity is entered after the child’s birth, the father must file a petition to seek custody and visitation rights. There are no standard forms for this petition and the process can be overwhelming, time-consuming, and costly if not handled properly therefore it is recommended that a trained attorney be retained.

When Do I Need to Contact a Lawyer?

If you are having issues with establishing paternity or challenging paternity it may be useful to seek out a local family law attorney to assist you with the process.

Each state has their guidelines on how to proceed in these situations. Therefore, it is important to converse with a professional who can provide you with accurate information and guidance on these matters.