In short, paternity law is a branch of family law that deals with the legal relationship between a father and their biological or adopted children. Determining a child’s paternity is important for establishing a variety of different legal matters involving a child, such as determining child custody, obligations for child support, inheritance rights, and visitation rights. Paternity laws are often complicated and vary by state. Common state legal definitions and categorizations of fathers include the following: 

  • “Putative” or Alleged Father: A putative or alleged father is commonly defined as a man who alleges himself to be the biological father of a child, but does not have legally established paternity over the child.
  • Unmarried Father: In the eyes of the law, unwed fathers are treated differently than married fathers when it comes to paternity. States typically define an unmarried father as the biological father of the child who was not married at the time the child was either born or conceived. 

    • As an unmarried father, paternity is not presumed and you must often sign an acknowledgement of paternity in order to legally establish your rights as a father. Unmarried fathers who do not voluntarily acknowledge paternity may still have paternity established for them, such as by a court ordering genetic testing. 
    • If the man is determined to be the father of the child, then he will have the legal obligation of caring for the child, such as by paying child support.
  • Presumed Father: A presumed father is typically defined as a man who is presumed to be the father of a child because of certain conditions. The conditions in which a man is presumed to be the father of a child include:

    • When a child is born during or in a short time after the end of a marriage, in most states the husband of the marriage is presumed to be the father.
    • If a man acknowledges the paternity of a child voluntarily in an acknowledgement of paternity filed with the court or the state bureau of vital statistics. Acknowledgement of paternity may also be done by signing the child’s birth certificate, or
    • If the man openly acts and behaves as if the child is his own, such as by receiving the child into his home, while the child is under the age of majority.   

As can be seen, there are numerous different ways in which states may define or categorize fathers when it comes to establishing paternity. However, once paternity is established, a man will have greater rights regarding the upbringing and care of their biological child. 

For instance, a man that has established paternity over a child will have the right to child custody or visitation rights. If granted custody rights, the man will be able to make decisions regarding the upbringing of the child. 

It is important to remember, that establishing paternity also establishes a legal obligation to care for the child. Because of the legal responsibilities and obligations created by fathering a child, putative or alleged fathers often contest paternity. 

How is Paternity Contested?

As mentioned above, paternity is often contested by putative or alleged father of a child. If the man contesting paternity is the presumed father of the child, then they will have to rebut the presumption of paternity. In order for a presumed father to clear themselves of their legal obligations to the child, they will often have to undergo paternity DNA testing

Because current genetic testing can determine paternity with a 99.9% accuracy, DNA tests have become the primary admissible method of establishing or challenging paternity in court. However, presumed fathers are not the most common person to challenge paternity. 

Typically, the most common person to contest paternity is a putative or alleged father who has a belief that they are not the actual biological father of the child. Putative or alleged fathers often contest paternity as a result of a paternity suit, which is most commonly filed by the biological mother of the child. 

It is important to note, paternity suits may also be brought by another man alleging himself to be the father, or in some situations the government. In most states, paternity suits must be brought within a certain period of time after the child is born. Additionally, fathers who are seeking to establish paternity must also bring a suit to establish paternity within a certain period of time. 

Regardless of who brings the paternity suit, the alleged or putative father has the right to contest the paternity suit. Once again, because of the advancements in genetic testing, putative or alleged fathers will often have to submit genetic samples in order to contest a paternity action. 

If the genetic testing determines the alleged father is not the biological father of the child, then they will have no legal obligations or responsibility to care for the child. However, if the genetic testing determines that the putative father is the biological father of the child, then they will have the legal obligation to care for the child, and will not be able to contest paternity again. 

Should I Hire an Attorney If I am Facing Issues with Paternity?

If you are a man who suspects that you may not be the biological father of a child, and a paternity suit has been brought against you, you should absolutely consult with a well qualified and knowledgeable father rights attorney in your area. 

An experienced father rights attorney will explain your rights as an alleged father, as well as help you file the necessary paperwork for contesting paternity. Additionally, they will be able to help you obtain DNA testing.