There is a difference between legal paternity and biological paternity:
- Biological paternity: You are the child’s biological father.
- Legal paternity: You are legally recognized as the child’s father and have parental rights.
Sometimes, a biological father does not have legal paternity, and vice versa. This can occur when a child is adopted, a stepparent is involved, or a child was conceived during an extramarital affair.
There are certain circumstances where you are presumed to have legal paternity, even if you are not the child’s biological father. You are a legally presumed father if:
- You are married to the child’s mother at the time of birth or conception,
- You sign the birth certificate (even if you know you are not the biological father), or
- Complete an acknowledgement of paternity form.
Once you establish legal paternity, you have all the rights and responsibilities of a parent. After you acknowledge paternity, you may only have a limited amount of time to contest or dispute paternity. While many states have a two-year time limit, there are many exceptions to this rule. An experienced family law attorney can help you understand your state’s laws and procedures.
How Can a Parent Be Legally Responsible for a Non-Biological Child?
Most states recognize the importance and value of child-parent relationships (even if they are not based on biological paternity). Many legal fathers play an active role in their children’s lives, regardless of biology. For this reason, you may be responsible for child support, even if you are not the biological father. Sometimes, family lawyers refer to this as “equitable paternity” or “parentage by estoppel.”
You may be considered an equitable (legal) father if:
- You and the child’s mother encouraged a close, familial relationship, and
- You held the child out as your own.
Again, paternity laws vary from state-to-state. If you have questions about your state’s equitable paternity laws, contact a family law attorney in your community.
Can Family Courts Enforce Child Support for Non-Biological Parents?
Family courts can order a non-biological parent to pay child support if he is a presumed or equitable father. A child support order must focus on the best interests of the child and your state’s child support guidelines. If you have financially and emotionally supported a child for years, it will be difficult to avoid child support payments. However, you may also have significant custody rights. Do not assume that you are ineligible for custody or visitation simply because you are a non-biological father.
Are There Any Defenses?
Establishing biological paternity is the best way for a non-biological parent to avoid child support. However, many states may still order child support payments if you are an equitable father (especially if the biological father has not been identified).
Seeking Legal Help
Child support and custody issues can quickly become contentious. And, paternity laws can be difficult to interpret and understand. If you are a non-biological father, contact a family law attorney for help. An experienced lawyer will evaluate your situation and explain your legal rights and responsibilities.