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Paternity

Determining Paternity Is Not Always Straightforward

Paternity must be established prior to a plaintiff in a child support action receiving support. A party may establish paternity in a few ways: through an in-hospital acknowledgment of paternity (AOP), a presumption of paternity, or the doctrine of paternity by estoppel. If paternity has not been established at the time of the conference or hearing, then the defendant may request genetic testing to determine paternity by filing a Complaint to Establish Paternity and for Genetic Testing.

Importantly, a support order establishes paternity as a matter of law. So, a father’s failure to appear for joint conference and support hearing, failure to file exceptions and failure to file and appeal is res judicata (a definitely settled issue) as it applies to paternity. Pennsylvania courts have found that the father thereby waives all defenses to paternity because the support order establishes paternity as a matter of law.

Acknowledgment of Paternity

An AOP is a form completed by both parties that, as the name suggests, acknowledges who the natural parents of the child are. More importantly to the support action, it establishes a legal parental relationship between the father and child. While these are usually filled out at the hospital at the time of birth, parents may fill an AOP form at any time until the child turns 18. Once the AOP form is received and verified for accuracy, then the Department of Health, Division of Vital Records (DVR) is notified that paternity has been established and is provided the father’s name on the birth certificate. Importantly, an AOP constitutes conclusive evidence of paternity without further judicial ratification.

To overcome an AOP, a father must do so through a Petition to Rescind Acknowledgement of Paternity, Disestablish Paternity, and Request Genetic Testing. A father may only due so by alleging fraud, duress, or material mistake of fact after the 60-day grace period from signing the AOP form.

Presumption of Paternity

A presumption of paternity exists when the child is conceived or born during marriage – meaning that the child is presumed to be the child of the husband. This is an irrebuttable presumption – almost impossible to disprove – unless the husband lacked access to the mother at the time of conception, the husband was impotent, the mother was sterile, or there was no intact family at the time of conception of the child. This requires a high burden of “clear and convincing evidence” before the court. In no uncertain terms, this presumption is “one of the strongest presumptions known to common law.” McCue v. McCue, 604 A.2d 738 (Pa. Super. 1992).

While this presumption is strong, it is not impossible to overcome. This is why having knowledgeable attorneys in your corner can make all the difference.

Paternity by Estoppel

If you have provided support or held out the child as your own, the court may prohibit you from denying paternity if it is in the best interests of the child. “Best interests” may include the relationship you have with the child, the results of genetic testing, and/or your financial ability. The public policy behind this doctrine rests in children being secure in knowing who their parents are, thus prohibiting a person who acts and bonds with the child as a parent from potentially traumatizing the child with knowledge that the father figure in his life is not in fact his father. However, this doctrine may not be applied where the child is too young to be damaged by this information.

No matter the issue arising in the realm of Paternity, experienced counsel is essential to securing a favorable result. THERE IS NO GOOD REASON FOR YOU TO FACE THESE ISSUES ALONE. GO FOR JOE – CONTACT OUR FIRM NOW.

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