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What Is Paternity Law?

Paternity law helps to recognize a child’s biological father legally through DNA testing. These cases typically involve two individuals who have a child together but are not married legally. In many cases, the mother files a paternity suit against the alleged father for child support. Establishing paternity is also important to cases involving adoption, inheritance, medical history, custody and visitation.

How Do You Establish Paternity?

When a child is born to unmarried parents, the mother has sole physical and legal custody unless and until she and the father establish paternity. If a father wants to have a relationship with his child and a voice in the child’s upbringing, it is important to establish paternity and ask for custody. When a married couple has a child together, the husband has presumed paternity.

Establishing Voluntarily After Birth

If parents get married after their child is born and look to establish paternity at that point, a legitimation form grants each parent equal rights over the child. If the parents do not get married, they can file a separate voluntary acknowledgment form in the hospital after birth or any time after. This way, the birth certificate includes the father’s name.

Establishing Paternity in Court

If the father does not voluntarily take responsibility for fathering the child, the mother can file a lawsuit to establish paternity. The alleged father must appear in paternity court. He may have to take a court-ordered paternity test if he continues to deny his paternity. Genetic DNA test results typically come back in a few weeks and have a 99% accuracy rate. There are strict rules associated with collecting and submitting DNA samples, and parties may only use certified facilities. There are no age limits on testing, either.

If the DNA results come back positive and parents establish paternity, the court passes an order in which the father must pay child support according to the state’s guidelines. Both parents’ incomes and their child’s needs determine child support payments.

Establish Paternity Through a Settlement

Before the court’s order, parties can establish paternity if they enter a settlement agreement. In this situation, fathers must provide financial support for their child. However, they sometimes agree to a lump-sum payment in exchange for no child support payments in the future. The court sometimes invalidates these lump-sum settlements based on unfairness or unconstitutionality grounds because it is hard to predict how incomes and a child’s needs may change in the future.

What Happens After Establishing Paternity?

Not only are there deep emotional benefits to both the father and the child after establishing paternity, but a child also obtains many legal rights. These legal rights include but are not limited to the following:

  • Child support
  • Inheritance 
  • Health insurance coverage under the father’s policy
  • Social Security benefits if the father dies or becomes disabled
  • Wrongful death benefits if the father dies because of someone else’s negligence
  • Obtain medical history information

Challenging Paternity

Sometimes medical tests prove inaccurate, and other times, presumed paternity proves wrong. Grounds for challenging paternity are as follows:

  • History of lab result errors 
  • Evidence of fraudulent lab results 
  • Proof of the alleged father’s infertility
  • Evidence of result tampering
  • Proof of the mother’s infidelity in marriage, therefore, the presumed father may not actually be the biological father

Lawsuits that challenge paternity can be complex, so it is important to work with an experienced family law attorney. If a child has grown up believing a certain man is her or his father, the court may make disproving paternity harder because of the emotional and psychological toll it could take on the child.

If a man other than the mother’s husband is determined to be the child’s father, it is up to the court to make a ruling on the best arrangement for custody and support. They may give the biological father visitation rights with no custody rights to not disrupt the child’s current home base or family structure.

The Process of Challenging

After filing an initial complaint with the court, it is likely the alleged father and the child have to take a DNA test. For thorough and more complete research, the court also seeks evidence from other sources. This can include medical documents or whether the actual father voluntarily steps forward.

At the end of this process, depending on the results of the test, the court issues an order naming the father. The parents must then meet to determine child support and custody arrangements moving forward. If the results come back negative, the alleged father bears no legal responsibilities in the child’s upbringing.

Work With an Experienced Local Lawyer

Paternity law is complex and differs across the various states. Children and their upbringing, especially in formative years, is a critical issue, one not to take lightly. To best understand the laws of your state and how they apply to your situation, speak with an experienced local attorney who can help guide you. Establishing paternity is an important part of the legal system. It is one way, among others, to protect children and enforce the parents’ legal responsibilities.

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