Family Law

How To Challenge Paternity

Determining the father of a child is important for many reasons, among them the fact that it helps to establish certain legal rights and responsibilities. After all, paternity determines who is responsible for supporting the child, who may have a hand in the child’s upbringing.

Once paternity of a child is legally established, the mother and child are also granted access to the father’s medical history and genetic information in order to learn of any medical problems the child may inherit. A suit to challenge paternity isn't always something that's initiated by the mother. Sometimes a court or medical professional names the wrong person as the father of a child, or lab tests can provide erroneous results. In those cases, either parent may file a suit challenging paternity.

Grounds for Challenging Paternity

Many paternity proceedings rely on medical evidence to show who the biological father is. Usually these tests are accurate, but sometimes they produce erroneous results regarding a child's parentage. The following are grounds for challenging a prior finding of paternity and items that may be assessed in a paternity-related court case:

  • Tainted lab results (e.g., evidence of prior errors in lab results and routinely substandard work);
  • Fraudulent lab results (e.g., evidence that the opposing party sent someone else to take the lab test on his behalf);
  • Proof of infertility or sterility;
  • Proof that the genetic testing< or other type of test results were tampered with; and
  • Proof of the mother’s infidelity in marriage -- when a child is born into an opposite-sex marriage, the husband is presumed to be the father of the child unless proven otherwise.
  • The date of the child's birth, mesured against potential time of conception and the typical development cycle of children.
  • Was there a material mistake of fact in a previous paternity case that led to an incorrect finding that makes paternity testing all the more important today?

State laws vary from state to state as to the grounds they accept to challenge a paternity test.

How to Challenge Paternity

A suit to challenge paternity is very similar to one establishing paternity. Each state has a slightly different way of starting a lawsuit, so check with a local family law attorney or with your state’s family law courts to find out exactly how to begin.

How Much Time Has Passed?

Some states will take into consideration how many years have passed with a father listed on a birth certificate or with the child believing a certain man is their father. The more time that has passed, the more difficult it is to challenge paternity because of the emotional and psychological effects it may have on the child.

Steps to Take to Contest Paternity

Usually, the first step is to file a complaint with the court. Once the complaint is filed, the court may order one or more DNA testing for the father and the child, and seek evidence from other sources to determine the biological father of the child. This other evidence may include medical documents discrediting paternity or if the true father decides to voluntarily acknowledge paternity. 

Blood tests may also be used to help determine whether the alleged father is biologically related to the child, but blood tests alone don't determine who the father actually is. However, DNA tests (genetic tests) are the most accurate way of determining paternity.

At the end of the process, the court will issue an order naming the legal father. The parents must then meet to determine child support and child custody logistics (custody arrangements).

Need Legal Help Challenging Paternity?

With a court order determining paternity comes a long and important list of legal responsibilities and parental rights, justifiably so. However, for any of those responsibilities to apply, there must be a fair process in which to determine paternity. That process must rely on sufficient evidence, but as you can see there are times when evidence relied on by the courts can be tainted. Reach out to an experienced family law attorney who will be in the best position to evaluate your case, provide legal advice, and challenge any evidence in a paternity case.

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