Our worlds often revolve around our children. We love our kids, which is why child custody cases can grow so heated, raw, and emotional. It’s also why establishing paternity and paternity fraud are such big issues when it comes to family law.
Child custody cases are complicated and contentious. There are parenting plans and visitation to arrange, child support payments to determine, and more. Issues of paternity only further muddy the waters. At best, it makes the process even trickier; at worst, it can upend your entire life.
On a basic level, establishing paternity means determining the identity of a child’s father. A number of ways exist for parents and the courts to accomplish this. Some are easy and straightforward, while others are a bit more involved.
The easiest and most obvious way to establish paternity is voluntarily. In the case of unmarried parents, the mother and father sign a Voluntary Acknowledgment of Paternity. This legally declares that they are the parents and then they can add the father to the birth certificate. Parents can accomplish this at the time of birth or anytime afterward.
Unless the mother was married to someone else at any time while pregnant. In Oregon, unless proven otherwise, the mother’s husband is presumed to be the child’s father. Additionally, if a man resides with a woman and child as a family, acts as a father, and establishes a paternal bond, the court may also presume he is the father. In these cases, even if a man is not a biological parent, the law may recognize him as such.
If there is no agreement, the state of Oregon can establish paternity through the court. DNA testing is the most common and accurate method for determining a child’s biological father.
Why Establishing Paternity Is Important
Establishing paternity is important for a number of reasons. Chief among them, everyone deserves to know who their parents are if they so desire. Not everyone does, and not everyone wants to have their parents in their lives, but it’s valuable to have the choice.
Knowing a child’s lineage and family history often has an impact on heading off health concerns. It’s imperative to know if a child is at risk for hereditary conditions or other issues. If something serious does develop, it’s often vital to identify relatives with compatible blood and tissue types.
A child may qualify for certain benefits from both parents. In most cases, there must be firm paternity for the child to receive these. This includes Social Security, veteran’s benefits, inheritance, and life insurance. Even health coverage often requires concrete paternity.
Being a single parent is difficult in many ways, and money is a huge part of that. The law requires both parents to contribute financially to raising the child. That way the entire economic burden doesn’t fall on the shoulders of one parent alone.
Establishing Paternity And Parental Rights
The courts increasingly recognize the importance of involving both parents in a child’s life. That’s all well and good, but you have few if any rights unless you establish paternity. This is perhaps the greatest reason to do this. Being the legally recognized father provides all of the rights, as well as the responsibilities, of a parent.
You essentially have the right to be a part of the child’s life, barring certain circumstances—this generally only happens in situations of abuse or in cases where one parent poses a potential threat to a child. Once you establish paternity, you have the right to visitation and even to pursue child custody.
On the other hand, establishing paternity comes with responsibilities. In most cases, the courts will award child support payments to the custodial parent. If you’re a parent, you’re obligated to contribute financially to raising the child. When you have custody, it’s your duty to raise and care for the child.
Set Aside Paternity
Beyond this, the situation often becomes even more complex. In Oregon, after signing the Voluntary Acknowledgment of Paternity, the father can request removal of his name from the birth certificate within 60 days. This essentially rescinds his claim. In cases of fraud, if he signed under duress, or if there was a mistake, this can happen even after 60 days.
After signing the affidavit, you have one year to request DNA tests if that didn’t already happen. You also have a year to petition the court to set aside paternity in the case of errors or neglect. If you discover a case of fraud, misrepresentation, or misconduct, you also have a year from the discovery to make a similar request. If the statute of limitations runs out, it can have serious consequences.
In some cases, due to intentional deception, a man winds up supporting a child he thought was his but actually isn’t. The overriding presumption is that, when a man finds out he’s the victim of paternity fraud, he won’t want to continue to act as a father to a child that isn’t biologically his. That’s not always the case, however. Much of this hinges on the strength and depth of the bond between the two.
In some instances, where a man has acted as a father for quite some time, he can retain parental rights, even if there’s no genetic relationship. Paternal feelings don’t necessarily evaporate once you see a set of test results on the page.
Consequences of Paternity Fraud
Mistaken paternity, whether the result of an accident or deliberate fraud, have significant consequences. This includes the children as well as the parents. Learning a father figure isn’t actually a father can cause quite a traumatic shock to a child, especially in younger years.
Willfully obscuring family histories opens children up to additional health risks. Hereditary diseases and ailments may creep in undetected because no one is looking out for them. Potential life-threatening allergies can be passed from generation to generation in the shadows. This is certainly extreme, but there are stories of otherwise avoidable catastrophes happening in these situations. Most situations won’t be life or death, but the possibility is there.
There are ways to protect yourself from paternity fraud. Some people even push for obligatory DNA tests at birth, though that’s a bit extreme. If you have questions about establishing paternity, or how to safeguard you and your children in divorce, contact Goldberg Jones at our Portland office.