Does Establishing Paternity Always Require a Genetic Test?

A child gets born out-of-wedlock. Or a mother lies about who the father is. Either way, a door gets opened, a door leading straight to paternity issues.

Paternity cases come in two flavors.

Either the parent wants to prove or secure parenting rights, or he wants to disprove paternity to avoid meeting unnecessary parental obligations, like child support. In both cases, you may be surprised to learn genetic testing is not always required. Nor is it the slam-dunk, open-and-shut case clincher that many fathers believe it to be.

Paternity is not “proven” so much as it is established.

Paternity really is a question of who carries the rights and responsibilities of fatherhood, and not, necessarily, of who shares the DNA link with a child.

There are multiple ways to establish paternity, and none of them have much to do with genetics. For example, if you father a baby out-of-wedlock but later marry the mother, then you’ve established paternity and may not be able to challenge it later without losing all access to your child. Or at all. The courts see this marriage as an unequivocable sign you’ve “held this child out” to be your own.

The presence of your name on your child’s birth certificate serves another clear example of a time when you could establish paternity by holding a child out to be your own.

Many of the laws which help fathers establish paternity (or trap them when they’re trying to sever these ties) existed long before the advent of DNA testing. The reasons why these laws persist link back to some intense child-welfare issues.

Genetic testing serves as a form of evidence in a fraud case.

Usually a fraud case isn’t something that happens when a father is trying to establish paternity. It usually happens when a mother wants to obtain child support from someone who isn’t the baby’s father.

Some organizations call for testing the DNA of every child at birth. Pennsylvania law doesn’t do it that way because it may not be in the best interests of the child. Whether you agree or disagree with the consequences, this is the case. What consequences? As an 

example, the National Parent’s Organization points out this means a married man loses the right to learn whether a child is his or not.

The principles guiding Pennsylvania law, and the law of most states, however, assert that fatherhood is about much more than sperm donation. As a result, DNA alone may not be enough to overturn established paternity. The goal is to protect the relationship a child may have with the man he or she called “Dad,” regardless of how his or her life came about. This does not, of course, always play out in reality. Tough decisions entwine every paternity case.

Warning: complex emotions abound.

Issues of paternity are complex both for biological and non-biological fathers. This New York Times story does a good job of translating the state of the law into real, human stories. For example, it tells the tale of a man who continued to support the daughter he’d raised for years even after receiving paternity results which said he was not her biological father. He only snapped when the mother married the child’s biological father. He still wants a relationship with the child he raised. He does not want to make her life easier with child support.

And that’s just it. Adoptive parents raise children who aren’t biologically theirs all the time, and love them. These fathers don’t just stop loving their children in the absence of a biological link. The anger is more about deception, and having to choose between terminating a relationship with a child and paying to support the person who deceived them.

Indeed, emotions over paternity issues can run so high they can even turn dangerous to all parties involved.

The confusion of the children involved offers insights into why Pennsylvania may refuse to make it all about the DNA well into the foreseeable future.

A good family attorney: your only chance.

Paternity cases can grow very complex in a very short period of time. Putting a qualified family law attorney on your side can help you identify and pursue your best interests in cases that are almost always emotional, and which are often financially devastating. Contact Sadek and Cooper for your free consultation today.

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