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Paternity Law

Paternity law involves the legal recognition of a child's biological father, typically established through genetic testing. For example, when a child's paternity is in question, or denied by the father, the mother may file a paternity suit against the alleged father to obtain child support. This section includes resources and articles about how paternity is established, its legal significance, grounds for challenging paternity claims, an overview of paternity tests, links to paternity laws in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, and other related topics.

Paternity Information by State

Each state has its own legal forms and requirements for establishing paternity. A paternity suit is often filed by the mother of a child seeking child support from the father. As part of the paternity suit, the father of a child needs to be determined.

There are two ways states can establish paternity legally: 1) Voluntary acknowledgment by the parent, or 2) State-established legal processes, which often includes genetic testing. If an alleged father lives in another state and fails to respond to a formal complaint properly served upon him, a default judgment can be entered against him that establishes he is the father. Additionally, a court order for child support may be issued. If the parent has disappeared, state and federal Parent Locator Services can be called on to help find him. States must give full faith and credit to paternity determinations made by other states in accordance with their laws and regulations.

Challenging Paternity

Upon the request of either parent in a contested paternity case, the court will require all parties (the mother, the child, and the alleged father) to submit to genetic tests to help the court determine paternity. Genetic testing is typically able to identify a man as the father of a child with a high degree of accuracy. Each state determines the accuracy threshold required to prove that the noncustodial parent is the biological father. The state can order genetic testing of a potential father even over his objections. If the test results are positive, he can contest the results and request a second set of tests (but he may be required to pay for the second set). If the test results are again positive, a rebuttable (in some states, conclusive) presumption that he is the father takes effect.

How a Family Law Attorney Can Help You

Paternity issues, like most family law issues, can have far-reaching implications, both financially and emotionally. When faced with these issues, it is important to seek the counsel of an objective, experienced lawyer. With the complex nature of some court procedures and emotions running high, it often helps to have a knowledgeable resource for information and a skilled advocate for negotiations and likely court proceedings. If you're seeking to establish or challenge paternity in a civil suit, an experienced family law attorney can help you in offering the correct evidence under state law and completing the proper paperwork. Because the procedures in exercising or terminating paternity rights can be complicated and involve confusing paperwork and court proceedings, it may be in your best interests to consult with an attorney.

Learn About Paternity Law