Paternity Laws

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 What Is Paternity Law?

Paternity is a legal claim that establishes a presumed father or father’s relationship with their child. A court can determine whether or not an individual is the legal father of a child and can establish their parental rights.

Paternity laws can be complicated. It is a sensitive legal area that affects the lives of the child or children involved and their parents. A court will make decisions regarding children using the best interest of the child’s standard.

How Is Paternity Established?

As noted above, paternity refers to determining the actual biological father of a child. Although establishing a child’s biological mother may be fairly straightforward, it may be more difficult to identify the child’s biological father if there are any questions regarding who that may be.

  • Most often, paternity issues arise in cases involving:
  • Child support;
  • Adoption;
  • Inheritance;
  • Custody and visitation rights;
  • Health care; and
  • Protecting and asserting parental rights.

The laws governing paternity vary by state. In most cases, paternity is resumed by voluntary measures and does not require DNA testing.

Paternity may be established in several different ways, depending on the jurisdiction. Many of these ways are voluntary on the father’s part, and the father is presumed.

Examples of voluntary paternity include:

  • Listing the father’s name on the child’s birth certificate;
  • If the father’s name is not on the child’s birth certificate, they can subsequently sign an affidavit of paternity;
  • Certain states may have time limits on the completion of the affidavit;
  • The father is currently married to the child’s birth mother;
  • The father treats the child as the father’s own child and provides for the child; or
  • The child lives with the father, who cares for and provides for the child.

In other situations, legal action may be required to determine the father of a child. Paternity cases often arise when the father or the alleged father does not cooperate, and the court has to step in.

The court usually orders the father to submit to a DNA test in these cases. A DNA test is a scientific tool to determine whether individuals are genetically related.

With a DNA paternity test, the results will show whether an individual is the father of the child in question. In some jurisdictions, if the alleged father does not submit to a DNA test, the court may deem that individual as the father by default.

Why Is Establishing Paternity Important?

Individuals may be motivated by different reasons to establish paternity, which may include:

  • The child will have legal rights to support and benefits from their father;
  • The child will know who their father is and may be able to establish a relationship with their father as well as other family members;
  • The father may not have been aware of the child’s existence and wants to be involved with the child and have visitation rights if the father is their parent; or
  • The father’s medical history and background are important links that the child may want to know about.

In addition, there are situations where an individual who is not a biological parent may be considered the de facto parent by a court of law. This may occur if a couple separates and one of them is the child’s biological parent while the other is not biologically related to the child.

If the individuals raised the child together and the non-biological parent stepped in as if the child were their own, a court will consider the case and may grant the non-biological parent de facto parent status. This status will allow a non-biological parent to have legal rights to continue to be part of the child’s life.

De facto parent laws may not exist in all states and may vary in the states that acknowledge them. Paternity is not automatically presumed when a couple who is not married has a child.

A court must establish paternity before issuing any orders concerning the relationship between the child and their father, especially child support orders. If an unmarried couple has a child, it is important to establish paternity as soon as the child is born.

This will protect all of the parties involved, including the:

  • Child;
  • Mother; and
  • Father.

Once paternity is established, a child may receive:

  • Child support;
  • Life insurance;
  • Health insurance benefits; and
  • Disability benefits.

In most cases, the established father will be required to pay child support until the child reaches the age of 18. In some states, child support must be paid until the child turns 18 or graduates high school.

The child’s father will be required to pay child support even if they are not actively involved in the child’s life. A child needs to receive support from their father.

It is also important that fathers’ rights are protected and that they are allowed to petition for visitation and custody rights if they wish.

Can Paternity Be Challenged?

A paternity case may be challenged or contested. As previously noted, a court may order a DNA test in order to determine if the alleged father is, in fact, the biological father.

In addition to the paternity determination, the goal of a court-ordered DNA test is typically to assign financial assistance for the child’s upbringing. If an alleged father believes they are not the child’s biological father, they may challenge the allegations and request a DNA test to prove they are not the father.

Due to the fact that current genetic testing determines paternity with 99.9% accuracy, DNA tests have become the primary admissible method of establishing or challenging paternity in court. The most common individual who usually contests paternity is the alleged father who believes they are not the actual biological father of the child.

A paternity suit may also be brought by another male who alleges he is the father. In some cases, the government may also file this type of suit.

In most states, a paternity suit must be brought within a certain period after the child is born. In addition, fathers seeking to establish paternity must also bring a suit to establish paternity within a certain period, typically two years.

Should I Call an Attorney Regarding My Paternity Matter?

If you have any issues, questions, or concerns related to paternity, it is important to consult with a paternity lawyer. Establishing whether or not you have paternity rights and responsibilities can have lifelong consequences for you, your child, and your child’s mother.

Whether you are trying to prove or disprove your paternity, it is important to have a lawyer help you ensure you handle the process properly. If you are a single parent seeking support from a former spouse or partner, a guardian of a minor seeking support for the child, an adult ‘child’ seeking to establish their father’s paternity, or any other scenario where paternity establishment may be necessary, it is important to have the help of an experienced and knowledgeable lawyer in your area.

Paternity issues can be emotional, making it difficult for individuals to make sound decisions. Your lawyer can help you throughout the process and advise you of the legal options available.


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