Regardless of marital status, if you are the father of a child, then you are obligated to pay child support. If you are questioning if the child is yours, then a paternity test may be in order.
The term, father, is determined by varying state laws. In some states, living with the child’s mother and raising them as your own you can make you the legal father. Once a legality is set, very often a negative paternity tests cannot break your legal obligation as a father.
However, this often depends on the state law and the situation. While some states specifically reference negative paternity tests, others may base the father’s obligation on the fact that the family relies on it. Either way, to protect your rights it’s always important to check your state’s laws so you are informed of your legal responsibilities.
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How Is a Child’s Paternity Established?
Until paternity is established, there is nothing that legally binds you to pay child support, unless:
- You are the father on the birth certificate;
- You registered yourself as being the baby’s father;
- You are married to the mother of the child; or
- If divorced, then the child was born within 300 days of the divorce
If any of the above have been applied, the father is held responsible for child support, and is also afforded visitation rights.
How Much Child Support Must the Father Pay?
States have different formulas when determining how much a father must pay towards child support. Typically, the court will look at the income of both parents, how many children are being supported, the needs of the child or children, and then calculate a figure based on those factors.
This will include if the child has any disabilities or special needs that will require higher expenses for child care. It’s also important to keep in mind that if the child has any permanent disabilities that may go on into adulthood, then the father may have to pay child support for the rest of the child’s life.
What If There Is No Court Order to Pay Child Support?
Even without a court order, a father is obligated to pay for the upbringing of his children. A court order is there to help the paying parent be responsible and protect them from the non-paying parents demanding any additional money.
Back child support can add up over time, so ignoring child support is not in your best interest. The state will come after you and enforce payment, even if years have passed. It is best to consult an attorney, and find out your options.
If I Marry a Mother with Children, Will I Have to Support My New Stepchildren?
State laws differ on step-parent/step-child financial relationships. Usually, you will not be held responsible for child support of your new stepchildren, unless you have legally adopted the children.
However, even if you did not legally adopt the children you might be liable. This is due to the Doctrine of Estoppel (also known as “detrimental reliance”). If your wife and children have come to rely on your support and help, to the point where they will be in a worse position if they did not accept your help, then you cannot stop your support.
For example, what if your wife was offered a job that would pay well and offer her needed benefits. But, due to the understanding that you will support them and your promise, she declined that job and now will have no way of supporting herself. In a case like this, you will most likely be barred from stopping child support (even if they are not your children) as this situation will fall under the protection of estoppel.
Do I Need a Lawyer?
Issues involving child support are complex, and can have serious consequences on a parent as well as their children. Consulting an experienced family law lawyer can help you in determining your rights, obligations, and any options you may have in your case.