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Paternity Test Laws

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What Is a Paternity Test?

A Paternity Test uses scientific evidence including blood or DNA tests to determine paternity, or a parental relationship between a father and child. Paternity tests are most commonly used in relation to custody and child support hearings. However, they are sometimes used in other situations such as in a family-based immigration claim.

A man is presumed to be the father of a child if he was married to the mother. If the marriage was terminated, the man is still presumed to be the father’s child if the child is born within 300 days of the termination. However, these presumptions can be rebutted (disproved) through clear and convincing evidence, such as a paternity test. A man usually only has a certain amount of time after childbirth to contest paternity.

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Can a Potential Father Refuse to Take a Paternity Test?

In many states, an action for determining paternity is actually considered to be a civil lawsuit. In such claims, a court will often order the alleged father to submit to a paternity test at a court-approved facility. Court determinations of paternity are final- once the test has been established, a judge will make a final decision as to the rights of the child and parents. 

If the person refuses to take a court-ordered paternity test, it could result in legal consequences. For example, the potential father may be held in contempt of court for violating the court order. This can result in fines or criminal charges. Or, a judge may enter an automatic (default) judgment against the person.

On the other hand, a court will not automatically issue a court-ordered paternity test simply because a paternity claim has been filed. The court must first review the petition to determine if there is sufficient information to issue a required test.

Can a Potential Father Request a Paternity Test?

Only certain specified persons are have legal standing to request a court-ordered paternity test. These include:

  • The mother of the child or expected child
  • A person alleging that they are the biological father of the child or expected child
  • The child’s personal representative
  • The child, if they have reached the age of majority
  • If intercession is needed, a social service agency or prosecutor may request a paternity test

Therefore, a man who claims to be the father of a child may initiate proceedings to determine paternity. In addition to the paternity test, the court will also review any facts which would establish a probability of sexual contact between the mother and the potential father.

However, if the child already has a presumed father, any paternity actions must generally be filed before the child reaches the age of 5. If no presumed father exists, a paternity action may be filed at any time before the child reaches the age of majority (usually 18 years old).  In most states only the child can file for a paternity action once they become an adult. The child typically has a 1-5 year window to file the paternity action once they become an adult.  

Can the Results of a Paternity Test Be Contested?

DNA paternity tests are reported to be up to 99% accurate in determining a biological relationship. However, the results of a paternity test may be contested based on the following grounds:

  • Tainted or fraudulent lab results (for example, if a different person took the test on the potential father’s behalf)
  • The alleged father provides proof of infertility or sterility
  • Evidence that the lab results had been tampered with

Recently the phenomenon of paternity fraud has become common in paternity suits. This is where a man is falsely identified as child’s biological father. This may occur for example if the mother has withheld information regarding other potential fathers. Therefore it is important to verify that the results of a paternity test be genuine and accurate. 

Do I Need a Lawyer?

Paternity determinations can have far-reaching effects with regards to several different rights, such as custody, visitation, and child support. If you have issues regarding a paternity test, you may wish to consult with a family lawyer for advice. A family law attorney with strong experience will be able to tell you whether a paternity test is required by law, and can help prevent instances of paternity fraud.  

Photo of page author Peter Clarke

, LegalMatch Content Manager

Last Modified: 07-13-2017 10:31 PM PDT

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