Can Questioning Paternity Actually Relieve You from Child Support?

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Unfortunately, it’s the subject of at least one reality television show.  Questions about paternity can create problems.  Often, the issues surface when the mother files court documents seeking child support.  Can fathers be required to make support payments for children that aren’t theirs?

First, you should realize that New Jersey law contains some interesting legal presumptions concerning parents.  Of course, it’s much easier to establish motherhood.  The obvious is that giving birth makes someone a natural mother.  Adoption papers not only identify adoptive mothers but also place their name on birth certificates as though they conceived and delivered they, child.

But, what about fathers?  It’s not quite that simple.  However, there are legal presumptions concerning paternity.  And, they might surprise you.

Legal Presumptions Concerning Paternity

NJSA 9:17-43 contains the legal presumptions that would make a man considered a biological father.  They are broken down as follows:

  • Biological mother gave birth during the marriage  
  • Biological mother gives birth within 300 days after the marriage was terminated by death, annulment or divorce
  • Birth of the child occurred during a time period when the biological mother and the man attempted to get married.  Even though the court may find the attempted marriage invalid, the same 300 days cited above would apply.  It would also include birth of a child within 300 days after cohabitation
  • Father has acknowledged paternity to the local registrar of vital statistics
  • Man seeks to have his name put on the birth certificate identifying him as the father.
  • Openly claiming someone to be a natural child could establish paternity
  • Voluntary or court-ordered child support obligations are a legal presumption of fatherhood
  • Before the child’s age of majority, the man received the child into his home and openly held out the child as his natural child.  Also, providing support under the same circumstances established paternity

These are the underlying presumptions and come with other considerations.  For example, the mother would be advised if a man submitted a written acknowledgment of his paternity to the local authorities.  Unless the mother disputes the assertion within a “reasonable time,” the man would be presumed to be the father.

Here’s another interesting part of the law.  Someone else can’t step up and claim they are the child’s dad, without the written consent of the presumed father.

Disputing the Legal Presumptions of Paternity

So, what happens if you’re “presumed” to be the father, and you either know or suspect you’re not?  How do you dispute the issue?  The method for rebuttal is found within the same statute.  The presumption can only be overcome by clear and convincing evidence.  Much weight is also given to the relationship between the presumed father and the child.  In our next article, we will go over the role of the psychological parent as it pertains to family court matters.

So, what is the evidence?  You may be outraged at the idea that you might be obligated to make support payments for a child that is not yours.  Of course, you will want proof of paternity and insist on DNA testing.  However, you might be surprised to learn that there’s more to the issue of disputing the presumption of paternity than simple genetics.

DNA Testing

You may decide that you need answers and insist that your attorney motion the court to order DNA testing.  You should know that’s not easy as that.  The court considers a number of questions in determining whether there is good cause to require the testing.  Here’s a breakdown:

  • When did the presumed father learn he might not be the biological father?
  • How long has the presumed father acted as the child’s father?
  • What type of relationship does the presumed father have with the child?
  • Does the child have a relationship with someone else alleged to be the father?
  • How old is the child?
  • Will the child suffer harm if the presumed father’s paternity is disproved?
  • To what extent will the passage of time reduce chances of establishing the paternity of another man and a child-support obligation for the child?
  • Has the child questioned whether the presumed father is actually his or her father?
  • Has the child expressed an interest in knowing family and genetic background, including mental and emotional history?

What does this mean exactly?  Put it all together.  If the child is now a teenager and you are the only dad he or she has known, there’s a good chance the court will not order genetic testing.  If there is a presumption of your paternity and you and the mom are not together, you will likely face child support obligations.  However, that also means you can enjoy the right to custody and visitation.  Again, we’ll go over the concept of the psychological parent in our next article.

Contact Us

If you have questions about paternity and are concerned about child support obligations, the Law Offices of Sam Stoia can help you.  Contact us to set up a complimentary meeting to discuss your concerns.