As unfair as it may seem, there are many times when a person is not the child’s father but is still held responsible for child support, even when he or she has a valid DNA test that clearly shows this. If a father is considered to be the legal father, he may still be held responsible for child support and not due any reimbursement for child support payments.
Family courts are typically more concerned with the best interests of the child rather than a father who later discovers he is not actually the father. Often, the child’s best interest is to continue to receive financial support even if this conflicts with the father’s interests or desires.
While the mother of a child is usually known, the process for determining a child’s legal father is often different. Some of the possibilities of establishing paternity include:
In a default judgment, the father may receive notice of a paternity action and fail to show up to court at the required time and date. The court may assume that because the father did not contest paternity that he is acknowledging that he likely is the father.
In other situations, the father may stipulate that he is the father of the child and not require a genetic test to prove it. This may occur when a father signs a voluntary acknowledgment of paternity or a birth certificate.
When a couple is married, was married at the child’s conception, married at the child’s birth or married after the child was born and another father did not step forward to acknowledge paternity, state law may presume that the husband is the father.
The process to try to change or set aside the judgment may be different based on how paternity was established. There may be a limited amount of time during which the judgment can be modified or reopened, such as one year or three years from the date of its entry. Sometimes state provisions may allow a father to bring a motion to reopen the judgment if good cause is shown. In other situations and states, the only way to set aside the judgment would be to show fraud, which can be difficult to establish. Typically, showing fraud requires the moving party to establish that the mother knew the father was not actually the father at the time of discovering the pregnancy, affirmatively stated the man was the father and the father acknowledged paternity based on this fraudulent statement.
In some situations, the court will not agree to set aside the judgment if there is not an identified father. Courts are often more concerned about the child having to rely on public benefits than on requiring a man to pay child support for a child who is not actually his.
Some states permit a process to disestablish paternity. In these situations, a DNA test may be submitted to the court that shows that the father is not actually the father. The father may be required to file a petition to terminate all child support obligations.
States may have a number of conditions that a petitioning man may have to meet in order to be able to disestablish paternity. For example, the state may require that no child support be owed at the time of the petition, that DNA results are obtained in a voluntary fashion or pursuant to a court order and the petition is submitted within a certain timeframe of the birth of the child, the petition for child support or the time when the man is notified that the child may not be his.
Even if a father successfully shows that he is not the father and the court orders him to no longer be financially responsible for the child, the court may still not order reimbursement to the father. The court may hold that the order should not be retroactive and may simply find that no future support will be required to be paid.
Likewise, if a mother files for government assistance or subsidized health care, child support payments may have gone to reimburse the state for its expenditures and the state may not agree to refund such payments to the father.
Contact a Family Law Lawyer for Assistance
A family law lawyer can explain what the legal requirements are in the state where the order for child support exists and discuss possible options.