Fathers and alleged fathers throughout the United States often find themselves in challenging positions regarding the family court systems. In particular, paternity tends to be a very contentious issue. In some cases, a father may need to legally establish the paternity of their child to assert their paternal rights. In others, alleged fathers may need to request court-ordered paternity tests to disprove paternity and avoid financial responsibility for children who are not biologically theirs. Unfortunately, many men have found themselves in the difficult position of realizing that the children they believed to be theirs were the biological children of other men, usually after several years of financially supporting these children.

If you have recently discovered that your former partner lied to you about the paternal status of their child, you may wonder what your legal rights may be insofar as holding them accountable for misleading you. Every state has different rules that may come into play in these cases. Typically, the two most critical legal statutes you should examine if you find yourself in this position are your state’s presumption of paternity laws and your state’s paternity fraud statutes.

What Is Presumption of Paternity?

When a woman gives birth in the United States, she automatically assumes parental status over her child unless she immediately turns the child over to an adoption agency. As far as the father is concerned, paternity is presumed if the alleged father is married to the child’s mother. Otherwise, the father of the child must willingly assume parental responsibility for the child. If your state’s laws dictate that you are the presumed father of a child, it’s necessary to take specific legal steps to legally establish paternity; otherwise, you may be responsible for child support even if you are not the father of the child.

Unfortunately, many men assume parental responsibilities in good faith, taking a child’s mother at her word despite a lack of supporting evidence. In many states, an alleged father only has a short window of time in which he can contest the presumption of paternity, and the only viable means of doing so is requesting a formal paternity test from the court. Suppose the alleged father does not contest parental obligations or secure a paternity test within the allotted time allowed by state law. In that case, he may be unable to avoid parental responsibility for the child.

Understanding Paternity Fraud

An alleged father can assume parental responsibility for a child believing the child to be his own, only to later discover that the child’s mother knowingly lied about the child’s paternity. Paternity fraud occurs when a child’s mother asserts their child’s paternity without knowing the truth of the child’s paternity or when she knowingly asserts paternity to a man she knows is not actually her child’s father. If a mother does not know who a child’s father is, she must say that she does not know. Paternity fraud is a serious issue, and if a man discovers that he has been the victim of paternity fraud, it is imperative to know what legal steps he can take to rectify the situation.

First and foremost, all men should understand the importance of paternity tests. Establishing paternity means taking a DNA test that will establish a parental link between a father and child. If your spouse or partner claims you are the father of their child and you have any reason to suspect otherwise, it is always best to arrange for a formal DNA test to put any doubts to rest. On the other hand, if you assumed parental responsibilities over your partner’s child in good faith and never thought to demand a paternity test, you could later discover that your partner misled you, and you will need to arrange legal representation and pursue a paternity fraud claim.

How Does a Paternity Fraud Case Unfold?

Every state has unique laws on paternity fraud cases. Typically, the best way to establish that paternity fraud has occurred is by undergoing a paternity test. Once you establish that the child’s mother misled you about your parental status, you have the right to file a paternity fraud case against her. Your attorney will help you determine the scope of your lawsuit. Depending on how long you assumed a parental role over her child and how much child support you have paid toward the child, you could also have grounds for civil damages.

If you have proven paternity fraud, your attorney can assist you in filing a Petition to Disestablish Paternity. This legal process will remove your parental obligations for the child in question and eliminate your financial obligation to the child’s mother. Additionally, the victim of paternity fraud has the right to pursue damages, including the amount they paid in child support and compensation for emotional distress.

When You Discover You Are the Father

Although rare, a man can discover that he is the actual biological father of a child despite the mother’s claims otherwise. This type of situation is usually emotionally challenging for everyone involved. Such a situation may have resulted from infidelity or similar issues, and the child’s mother may have claimed that another man was her child’s father for financial or social reasons. In the event that you have evidence to believe you are the father of a woman’s child and she claims otherwise, you must file a paternity claim in court to invalidate a non-biological father’s paternity rights.

When to Talk to an Attorney

Paternity cases are usually emotionally stressful affairs. Whether you want to assert paternity over a child that you believe to be yours and assume the responsibility of fatherhood, or if you believe you have been misled about your parental status and need to take legal action, an experienced family law attorney is the best asset you can have on your side in these complex cases. In most paternity disputes, a DNA test is all that is required to resolve the matter, whether you intend to prove or disprove your paternity of a child. Contact a reliable and experienced fathers’ rights attorney as soon as possible to discuss your concerns if you believe you have grounds for filing any type of paternity case.