Yes. In most states, fathers have the same rights regarding child access and decision making authority as mothers. However, legal recognition of parental rights is frequently met with the responsibility to financially support the child.

Unlike mothers, who are easily recognized by the fact they gave birth, fathers can experience being left out from the beginning if they are unaware of the birth and thus unable to get the legal recognition they deserve.

What is Paternity Law?

Paternity is the state of being one’s father. Paternity law refers a body of family law that governs the legal relationship between child and father. Paternity can be established in different ways:

  • The man is married to the woman who gave birth to the child;
  • The man is listed as the father on the child’s birth certificate;
  • The man acknowledges that the child is his;
  • The man legally adopted the child; and/or
  • A DNA test concluded that the man is the father.

Are there Any Legal Presumptions of Paternity?

Yes. A legal presumption is a conclusion based on particular facts and allows the Court to assume the presumption is true unless rebutted by a preponderance of evidence. In paternity cases, there are two common presumptions that the man in question is the father of the child.

  1. The man is listed as the father on the birth certificate. Depending on the jurisdiction, the mother may be able to list the man as the father without his presence. In some states, the father must be present at the hospital in order for the staff to enter his name as the father. 
    1. If a child is born without the father’s knowledge, he may be able to petition the Court, after the birth, to add his name to the birth certificate.
  2. If the mother is married at the time of the birth, her husband is presumed to be the father.

How Do I Challenge Paternity?

The most common and conclusive method to challenge paternity is to request a DNA test. DNA testing is the most reliable way to discover paternity because it is over 99% accurate. Most family law courts have a process in place for either parent or the state child support enforcement unit to petition the court to order a DNA test to determine the biological father.

If you believe you are the father of a child but were not included on the birth certificate and are not married to the mother, you may be able to petition the court to order a DNA test. If you believe you are not the father of a child, but are married to the birth mother or were incorrectly listed as the father on the birth certificate, you may also be able to petition the court to order a DNA test. If the court orders a DNA test, you may be compelled to provide DNA for the testing and the child’s DNA may also be compelled.

What are the Consequences of DNA Testing?

If the child is found to be your child, you may responsible for child support payments. Failing to comply with a child support order could result in wage garnishment, back payments, and even jail.

If a DNA test concludes you are not the father, you may be released from such child support obligations but you might not be able to continue a relationship with the child depending on the state laws and particular facts in your case.

What are the Risks if I Do Not Challenge Paternity?

Many paternity questions depend on the passage of time. Failing to challenge paternity within the statutory timelines when you are legally presumed to be the father may prohibit you from being released from paternity obligations.

Thus, if you believe you are not the father or you believe another man has been incorrectly determined to be the father of your child, it is best to challenge paternity sooner rather than later to rebut any inaccurate presumption.

Depending on the state, if too much time has passed, then the Court may decline to hear your paternity challenge and you will be responsible for any child support obligation regarding that child for years at a substantial cost to you.

Do I Have Any Legal Rights to a Child Not Biologically Mine?

This depends on the state and specific facts related to the family in question. If you were presumed to be the father but are not actually related biologically, there may be laws to protect your relationship with that child depending on the length of time that has passed since paternity was presumed.

Can a Lawyer Help Me with My Paternity Case?

Yes, a local family attorney can assist you in establishing paternity and petitioning the court for a DNA test. An attorney can also be helpful in determining child support obligations and assist you with establishing your paternity rights and access to your child.