Ending a marriage does not end either parent’s responsibility for providing financial support for their children. When a couple divorces, one parent generally receives custody of the child or children. The other spouse, typically the father, may be required to pay child support for daily care. There are many instances when the father tries to challenge paternity to avoid paying.
Under Pennsylvania Law, paternity is automatically established if the child is born while the parents are married. There is a presumption that the husband is the father of the child. However, the presumption can be rebutted if the father can prove lack of access to the mother or impossibility. For example, if the husband was deployed for three years and the wife gave birth during this time, then the presumption that the husband is the father is rebutted.
The situation becomes more complicated when the parents are not married at the time of the child’s birth. If both parties agree that the father is in fact the biological father, then the parents can voluntarily establish paternity by completing a “Voluntary Acknowledgment of Paternity” form. The VAP is usually completed at the hospital when the child is born, but it can be completed at any time before the son or daughter turns eighteen. Once it is properly filed, the father becomes the legal father and his name will be added to the child’s birth certificate.
If there is a dispute over paternity, then the case must be brought to court. The mother or father seeking to determine paternity can file a “Petition to Determine Paternity.” The court will often order DNA testing of the child and father. If the results reveal the father is in fact the biological father, then the court will issue an order of paternity, granting the legal rights and responsibilities of fatherhood and adding the father’s name to the birth certificate.
Once paternity is established, it can be difficult to challenge it. If the child is born during marriage or the father voluntarily establishes fatherhood, the father is required to file a motion with the court. At a hearing the court will determine if genetic testing is necessary to determine paternity. The court may not allow it to be challenged if a party has acted in certain ways.
While Pennsylvania courts recognize that these tests can determine whether a man is the biological father of a child, they have returned mixed rulings on whether he is responsible to provide financial support after he and the mother split up. Generally, the court determines paternity based on the relationship between the presumed father and the child. The State of Pennsylvania recognizes the concept, “Paternity by Estoppel.” If a man has bonded with the child and acted as the father by assuming the responsibilities and duties of fatherhood, the man may be required to pay support. The court can estop the man from denying his obligation to provide child support on the basis that the child is not his. The purpose of this concept is to ensure the child’s best interest is protected and to achieve fairness between the parents by holding both the mother and father to their prior conduct.
At the Law Office of Smith & Horwitz, our attorneys can help you with all aspects of establishing child support, so your rights and your child’s rights are protected. Call us today for a free phone consultation 215-545-2880.