As more children are born out of wedlock, DNA paternity testing is a common method of definitively determining the identify of a child's biological father. Paternity testing is often required if the mother of a child is seeking court-ordered child support. However, establishing paternity also gives the father of the child certain rights, specifically the right to seek custody or visitation with his son or daughter. To legally establish paternity, DNA testing must conform to court-ordered methods and procedures that establish little question as to the child's parentage.
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What are the Legal Implications of Proving Paternity?
Most people jump to the conclusion that paternity testing is conducted so that the biological father will have to pay child support to the child's mother, regardless if this is in accordance with his wishes. However, establishing paternity grants the biological father certain rights, including legal access to his child. Unless a court of law determines that it is not in the best interest of the child to have contact with the biological father, an unmarried father has all of the custody rights as those granted to a divorced father whose child was born in wedlock.
How Is Paternity Testing Initiated?
If an unwed couple--or even a couple who is wed--has doubt about a child's paternity, they can agree privately to have DNA testing conducted. However, in the majority of cases, paternity testing is ordered by a court when the putative (assumed) father denies that he is a child's biological father. The child's mother can hire an attorney to act for her, but if a child is already born and is receiving state assistance, the state will intervene and require that paternity testing be conducted on the child's purported father--or even numerous men, if the mother had more than one sexual partner at the time of the child's conception. Once the child's father is determined, he will have to reimburse the state for at least part of the financial assistance the child received in addition to making child support payments.
How Is Paternity Testing Done?
Typically, paternity testing is conducted after a child is born and involves taking a tissue sample (cheek swab) or blood test from the child, the child's mother and the putative father. However, paternity can be established through more invasive methods while a woman is still pregnant, as long as testing is conducted within a time frame during which it is considered safe for both mother and foetus. DNA testing can be done through chorionic villus sampling (CVS) as early as the tenth week of pregnancy or through amniocentesis after the 15th week of pregnancy. There are numerous home-DNA testing kits that permit cheek samples to be taken at home and submitted to an approved local laboratory. However, it's important to note that a court of law will not accept these results when considering matters of custody and support. Paternity testing must be conducted and results furnished from a court-approved facility and strict chain of custody procedures followed.
Can a Man Contest Paternity?
If the unwed mother of a child lists a putative father on the child's birth certificate, the putative father can contest paternity, making it necessary for the mother to obtain a court order to require the man to undergo DNA testing. However, even a married man (who by law is a child's "assumed" father) can contest paternity, if he suspects his wife has had a child that is not biologically his. In the early 2000s, there were a rash of "paternity fraud" cases in which men who were assumed fathers later found out that a child they had been financially supporting was not their biological child. State law has since slowly been changing to protect the rights of men--married, unmarried and divorced--against paternity fraud. In 2006, University of Oklahoma anthropologist Kermyt Anderson determined that paternity testing studies conducted since 1949 indicate that 30 per cent of men are not the biological fathers of their presumed children. Unwed men are advised to never assume paternity of a child until DNA testing is completed, lest they agree to 18 years of child support for a child that is not biologically their own.
Is There a Way to Establish Paternity Without DNA Testing?
Many men who assume that they are the father of a child can choose to have an order of paternity entered by the court without going through DNA testing. This is usually accomplished at the time the child is born. Hospitals will provide a state-approved legal form that both parents sign acknowledging that they are a child's biological parents. Once this is filed and entered through the court, it is almost impossible to change. Even if a man later finds out that he is not the biological father, he will still be responsible for supporting the child financially until the child reaches the age of majority.
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