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Everything You Need to Know About Establishing Paternity

4 min read

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By Larissa Holt

Establishing paternity is an important part of child support and child custody issues. Learn more about what establishing paternity means and how it works.

Establish paternity isn’t something that comes up in every family law case, but in the ones where it does, it can have a huge impact on what happens after the testing is complete and the results are in. Whether you are a father trying to get custody established or a mother seeking child support, it’s important to understand why and how paternity is established and what happens next. In this article, we cover everything you need to know.

Reasons to Establish Paternity

Establishing paternity is usually an issue in cases where a child was born to parents who were not legally married. While it is possible for paternity tests to happen in cases where a child is born during a marriage and one or both parties doubt the paternity, it’s important to distinguish between biological paternity and legal paternity. In some states, even if the child is found to be not biologically related to the father, if the child was born during the marriage and the father accepted paternity by signing the birth certificate, the father is still considered the father for legal reasons such as child support.

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Some common reasons to establish paternity are:

The Process of Establishing Paternity

Establishing paternity is a fairly straightforward process when both parties are involved and participating in the process. However, there can be some challenges that arise. Paternity is not always as easy to establish as you would initially expect, and yet it is absolutely vital to the outcome and continued processes. Below we cover what paternity testing consists of and when you might need to get help from the courts.

Paternity Testing

Paternity testing is easy and widely accessible today. At-home testing kits can be purchased over the counter at most major drug stores. The samples are collected from a cheek swab of both the child and the suspected father and then sent out for a lab to analyze. The results can take a couple of weeks to a month to get back but are generally very reliable. However, it’s important to note that at-home testing may not be accepted by the courts if the paternity is being contested. In these cases, the courts may still require additional testing at a court-approved facility to be accepted.

Omar Lopez/Unsplash

Getting Help From the Courts

One of the common issues that can come up is when one party either cannot be found or is otherwise uncooperative. For example, if a man believes a child to be his biologically and is seeking parental rights, the mother may not present the child for testing to avoid a custody order or visitation. On the other hand, a man who doesn’t want to have to pay child support may refuse to provide contact information or a DNA sample for paternity testing.

In these cases, the party seeking to establish paternity often ends up needing to get the courts involved. Once the case is entered into the legal system — usually by seeking to establish a custody or child support order — the courts can order the parties to cooperate with testing and even facilitate the testing themselves. Although, court-ordered testing usually still must be paid for by the parties involved. If one or both parties continues to be uncooperative with the testing, they can be held in contempt and face fines and other penalties.

What Happens After the Results Are In?

Once the paternity results are in, what happens next depends on whether they were positive or negative. If the paternity testing shows that the suspected father is not the biological father, any outside child support or custody attempts are usually dropped. If the testing shows that the suspected father is the father, custody, visitation and child support will also usually be established by the courts. The exception to this is if the parties were married. In some states, a child being born during a marriage overrides biological paternity and you will need a knowledgeable family law attorney to help you understand your next steps. 

Note: Any time you have questions about how to establish paternity legally, what’s involved in the process or how the results may impact your family situation, it’s always a good idea to consult with an attorney.


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