Statute of Limitations to Establish Paternity by States

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 Statutes of Limitations on Establishing Paternity

Paternity is the fatherhood of a child or being a father. Paternity can be disputed and the issue of who is the father of a particular child may have to be resolved in a paternity lawsuit in court.

There are other ways for establishing paternity and a paternity lawsuit is only one of them. 

There are a number of different people who might have an interest in establishing the legal paternity of a child. They would include the mother, the child, a person who claims to be the father, a person who claims he is not the father or any other interested party. In some cases, a government agency wants to establish the paternity of a child. Paternity is usually established by DNA testing.

Paternity lawsuits are governed by state law in each state. Some states have statutes of limitations for paternity lawsuits. A statute of limitations is a law that limits the time within which a lawsuit may be brought. So the statute of limitations for a paternity lawsuit will depend on what the law is in the state in which the suit is filed.

What Are the Statutes of Limitations on Establishing Paternity by States?

Paternity statutes of limitations vary by state. In New Jersey, a suit to establish paternity must be brought within five years after the child reaches adulthood, i.e. 18. So, in New Jersey, a paternity case must be filed before the child whose paternity is in question reaches the age of 23, meaning at any time between the birth of the child and the time the child reaches the age of 23. 

Any interested party, including the mother, the presumed father (the person who was married to the mother at the time of the child’s birth), the alleged biological father, the child, or any other interested party can bring an action for paternity in New Jersey. The husband of the mother of the child at the time of the childs’ birth is presumed by law to be the father, but a DNA test can overcome this presumption. 

In North Carolina, the statute of limitations for a suit to establish the paternity of a child born out of wedlock may be filed  at any time prior to the child’s eighteenth birthday. Paternity must be proven by “clear, cogent, and convincing evidence.”  There are other limitations related to the life of the putative father. For example, a paternity suit cannot be started after the death of the putative father or within one year if the administration of the estate of the putative father has not begun within one year of his death. 

If the paternity suit is filed more than three years after the birth of the child or is brought after the death of the putative father, paternity cannot be established without evidence from a blood or genetic marker test.

In Kentucky, the statute of limitations is 18 years after the birth of the child. However, back child support (that is child support paid for the years before paternity is established) cannot be obtained unless the paternity suit is brought within four years after the date of the birth of the child. 

In Michigan the statute of limitations for bringing a paternity suit is when the child reaches the age of 18. 

In Missouri, a paternity action relating to a child who has no presumed father, i.e. the husband of the mother at the time the child was born, is eighteen years after the birth of the child. Retroactive payment of child support is limited to a period of five years before a paternity suit is filed.  

In Texas, there is no statute of limitations for a lawsuit to establish paternity, however there is a limit on the amount of retroactive child support that a mother could recover if she were to prevail in a lawsuit to establish paternity.

In Texas, a court decree establishes a person as the father of a child  and the court may order the father to pay future child support as well as retroactive child support. However the law of paternity in Texas establishes a presumption that retroactive child support may only be levied for the four years preceding the decree of paternity. This presumption regarding retroactive child support can be overcome by evidence showing that the father knew or should have known that he was the father of the child and tried to avoid the obligation to pay child support.

In California, there is no statute of limitations for a paternity lawsuit. The person who is alleged to be the father becomes legally responsible for the financial support of the child if the person is shown to be the biological father. 

Of course, in California as in every other state, during the court process and prior to entry of the court’s order, the parties may negotiate a resolution to the issue of paternity and related issues such as child support. They may resolve the issue of paternity itself, and if the alleged father agrees to paternity, they may resolve related issues of custody, visitation, and child support. 

What Happens When Paternity Is Not Established?

The decree of a court designating a person as the father of a child establishes a parent-child relationship between them for all purposes. This means that the father is obligated to pay to support the child, with limitations in some states on retroactive child support as noted above. The father may sue for custody or visitation or the parents may work out mutually agreeable arrangements for custody and visitation. 

The father acquires a right to participate in decisions concerning the education and medical care of the child and the child becomes an heir of the estate of the father unless a will provides otherwise. The child could participate in the father’s group health insurance and even become entitled to future social security benefits because of the existence of the parent-child relationship. 

There are several consequences of not establishing paternity. If a person is not the father of a child, the person is not liable to pay for support of the child. The person is not entitled to custody of or visitation with the child. The person is not entitled to participate in decision-making about the child’s education or medical care. Basically, the person who is not legally the father of a child has neither any rights with respect to the child nor any obligations.

The child is not entitled to inherit any of the person’s property unless, of course, the child has been named and given a bequest in the person’s will. Otherwise the child has no claim on any of the assets of the person who is not their father.

Do I Need A Lawyer?

If you wish to establish the paternity of a child or perhaps your own paternity, you would be well-advised to consult with an experienced family law attorney. The law in this area is unexpectedly complicated. 

An experienced family law attorney can analyze the facts of your situation and determine whether there is a statute of limitations problem or presumptions that need to be overcome. The lawyer can tell you what you need to do to establish paternity or defeat an assertion of paternity, if that is your goal. They can also fully explain the consequences of establishing paternity or failing to do so. It is best to navigate a paternity suit with an experienced family law attorney.


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