Yes, in most cases, all parents can be required to pay child support, regardless of whether they are married. However, in some instances paternity is unclear and the issue of child support is difficult to determine. There are several types of paternity, and in some cases the legal father is not the biological father.
An acknowledged father is a biological father whose paternity has been legally established, either through a paternity test, an admission by the father, or agreement by the couple. This includes parents of adopted children. An acknowledged father is required to pay child support.
The law also creates a presumption of paternity in some situations, such as:
- he was married to the mother when the child was conceived or born;
- he married the mother after the birth and agreed either to have his name on the birth certificate or to support the child;
- he welcomed the child into his home and openly held the child out as his own.
In most states, this presumption is rebuttable so that the father or the mother can prove otherwise in court. However, in some states the presumption is conclusive and cannot be challenged. A presumed father is required to pay child support unless he successfully rebuts the presumption.
A father has a duty to support his children even without marriage or a court order. However, if he refuses to do so, an unwed mother must go to court and file a paternity action to have the man declared the legal father. If paternity is acknowledged, this is very straightforward. If paternity is presumed, the father is then given the opportunity to rebut the presumption. Once paternity is legally established, the court will then order the father to pay child support and grant him visitation rights.
The laws regarding child support and paternity are very complex and can vary greatly from state to state. An experienced family lawyer can advise you of the law in your area and help you determine your options in obtaining child support. A lawyer can also represent you in court.