Many complications can arise in a family when a daughter is believed or proven not to be the biological child of one of the parents. The daughter may be a stepchild who is part of the family but not adopted by the non-biological "parent," or the mother may become pregnant with someone's child while married to another man. These cases will involve complicated legal wranglings, particularly if the married persons divorce.
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In most states, if a child is born to a woman who is married, her husband's name is automatically listed as the father on the child's birth certificate. If you know or suspect the child is not yours, your name will still be listed unless you, the mother or the person who believes himself to be the actual biological father contests paternity. However, if you do not want your name listed as the child's father, you have the right to undergo paternity testing within a set period of time --- typically 30 days, but this may vary by state. If you were not married to the mother, you have no legal paternity rights unless paternity is established through DNA testing.
No Responsibility to Support
Paternity indicates legal and biological identity as a child's father. You have the responsibility to support your daughter only if she is biologically yours or if you have assumed legal responsibility for her. If your daughter isn't really yours, you are not legally responsible to support her.
Equitable Parent Doctrine
Some states recognise an "equitable parent" doctrine, which grants custody and legal rights to an adult who considers a child to be his own and the child similarly sees the adult as the parent. This tricky legal concept can be used to allow custody or visitation rights to a non-biological parent in the case, say, of a divorce, when the "parent" wanted to continue seeing the daughter after separating with the biological parent. In such cases, the non-biological parent usually becomes legally obligated to pay child support.
Under current U.S. law, stepparents have very few legal rights toward their stepchildren unless they legally adopt them. This is changing due to the increasing number of stepparent-stepchild relationships as U.S. divorce rates rise, but cases are considered on a case-by-case basis. Stepparents have no legal responsibilities toward the stepchildren before or after a divorce. If you desire to keep seeing your stepdaughter after divorcing her biological parent, you will need to make the case in court that a parent-child bond was formed, and that your stepdaughter sees you as a parent. A similar case may arise when a biological parent dies; custody then defaults to the other biological parent, not to the stepparent, no matter who has been more involved in the child's life.
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- First Wives World: The Legal Rights Of Step-Parents
- The Carson Law Firm: Equitable Parent Doctrine
- U.S. Legal Dictionary: Equitable Parent Doctrine Law & Definition
- TX Access: Paternity