Paternity: Introduction

Paternity refers to the legal process of identifying the father of a child generally through DNA testing. While it is generally easy to identify the biological mother of the child, the father’s identity may sometimes be uncertain. Paternity can be a factor in cases of child custody, child support, adoption and inheritance.

Legal Actions

Generally, a paternity suit is in the form of a civil lawsuit. The exact procedure varies from state to state. In most states, paternity must be proved by a preponderance of evidence. In states like New York, the law requires clear and convincing evidence that the man is the father. The recent developments in DNA testing and other scientific methods of determining paternity have made it easier to establish paternity as required by state law.

DNA Testing

The development of DNA testing is seen as a major development in paternity determination. The genetic characteristics of the child are first compared with the genetic characteristics of the mother and the characteristics of the child that not found in the mother are considered to have come from the father. If the man’s DNA does not have these characteristics, the man is not the father of the child. If any of the characteristics are present, then the probability of the man being the father are calculated. DNA testing has an accuracy rate of over 99%.

Establishing Paternity

DNA testing is usually done when one party contests paternity. For example, the man in a child support lawsuit may require that paternity be proved. Likewise a woman can contest the paternity of a man claiming to be the father in a child custody battle. If there is no dispute between the parents, it is possible to voluntarily establish paternity. Certain actions taken by the man can also result in establishment of paternity – for example holding the child as his own in public. If the child was born during or shortly after the marriage, the husband is considered to be the father.

Once paternity is proved, the father can be ordered to pay child support. Unmarried fathers will generally not get custody if the mother is willing to take care and is capable of taking care but the unmarried father will be preferred over third parties including grandparents and other relatives.

Paternity can have far reaching emotional and financial consequences. If you have to deal with paternity issues, contact an experienced attorney.

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