A paternity test is a medical test that utilizes scientific evidence such as blood or DNA, to determine paternity, or a parental relationship between a father and a child. As paternity law is concerned with the legal recognition of a child’s biological father, paternity tests are often requested by the court when there is a dispute as to the legal parentage of a child. They are most commonly used in relation to custody and child support hearings, but are sometimes used in other family law circumstances, such as a family-based immigration claim.
If the parents of the child are married when the child is born, there is generally no need for a paternity test to establish paternity, as the child is generally the presumed child of the marriage; however, if the child is born to an unmarried couple, or there is a third party asserting paternity rights, it could lead to a court ordered paternity test.
Additionally, if the marriage was terminated, the man is still presumed to be the child’s father if the child is born within three hundred days of the termination of the marriage. It is important to determine your state’s statute of limitations on paternity testing and establishment of parentage, as well as contesting paternity.
Yes, a potential father may refuse to submit to a paternity test, but the refusal will not be without consequence. In many states, actions for determining paternity may actually be considered civil lawsuits. In such claims, a court will often order the alleged father to submit to a paternity test at a court-approved facility.
Thus, in such cases, a refusal to submit to testing could lead to the potential father being held in contempt of court. Being held in contempt of court could lead to consequences such as fines or criminal charges. Additionally, a judge may enter an automatic (default) judgment against the person.
An important note is that not every court will necessarily force the alleged father to submit to a paternity test right away. The court will first review the facts of the situation, and may find testing unnecessary.
Additionally, it is possible for paternity to be tested without the potential father being made aware of the testing. This is referred to as “non-legal paternity testing” and is only for personal information and use. The results of a non-legal paternity test would not hold up in court. An example of non-legal paternity testing would be through testing the potential father’s parents, or his first degree relatives.
There are specific people who are legally allowed to request paternity testing. These people include:
- The mother of the child, or the expected child;
- A person alleging that they are the biological father of the child, or the expected child;
- The child’s personal representative, or the non-parental adult appointed by the court to represent the best interests of the child;
- The child themselves, if they have reached the age of majority (dependent on state law, but typically between eighteen and twenty one); and
- A social service agency or prosecutor, if intercession is needed.
Thus, a man claiming to be the father of the child in question may initiate proceedings to determine paternity. However, if the child already has a presumed father, any paternity actions must generally be filed at any time before the child reaches the age of five years old. Further, if no presumed father exists, a paternity action may be filed at any time before the child reaches the age of majority.
DNA paternity tests are reported to be 99% accurate in determining a biological relationship. Additionally, paternity tests are typically only ordered when enough facts are present to justify such proceedings. However, it is possible to contest the results of a paternity test based on:
- Tainted or fraudulent lab results, such as a different person taking the test on the behalf of the potential father;
- The potential father provides proof of infertility or sterility, thereby proving themselves incapable of being the child’s biological father; or
- Evidence that the lab results had been tampered with, such as swapped test results
As mentioned before, there are non-legal tests that are used for personal information but will not hold up in court. If DNA samples are collected without the consent of the potential father, the test is invalid in court.
There is a recently common phenomenon of paternity fraud. This occurs when a man is falsely identified as a child’s biological father. This can occur for example if the mother has withheld information regarding other potential fathers. It is imperative to verify that the results of the paternity test are genuine and accurate before agreeing to the results.
Paternity determination is an extremely important aspect of family law and parental rights, such as custody, visitation, and child support. A knowledgeable and qualified family law attorney will be able to tell you whether a paternity test is required by law in your state, and can help prevent any issues with paternity fraud. Additionally, a family law attorney will be able to represent you in court, if necessary.