Man and boy playing outsideThe father of any child has a duty to support and protect that child. Paternity can exist within marriage or outside of marriage. It can exist by natural birth, by adoption or by assisted reproduction. In all cases, unless otherwise assigned, the responsibilities of a father are the same.

A father who is not married to a child's mother can prove (or disprove) paternity by acknowledgment or by genetic testing. Within marriage, some states do not allow a man to disprove paternity of any child born during the marriage. Other states allow it, but with a statute of limitations. If you don't attempt to disprove paternity within a reasonable period of time after the child's birth, you may not be able to.

You Can Voluntarily Acknowledge Paternity

In many states, you can acknowledge paternity without actually proving it. When your child is born, you can usually sign an acknowledgment at the hospital. Your name will appear on your child's birth certificate as the father. You can usually acknowledge paternity at a later time as well, by contacting your state's department of vital records or department of health.

You Can Usually Change Your Mind

After you acknowledge paternity, you may have a change of heart if evidence comes to light that you may not be the child's father. Most states allow you to withdraw your acknowledgment but, depending on your state's laws, you might have only a limited period of time in which to do so. If you don't act quickly, some states require you to file a legal action with the court to undo your acknowledgment.

You Can Prove Paternity Over the Mother's Objections

When you sign an acknowledgment of paternity, it's usually because the mother agrees that you are the child's father. If she does not agree, or if you think you may not be the child's father, you must ask the court to order genetic testing. This usually involves filing a motion with the court to make the request. In some states, judges must grant your request if you ask. The court will order you, the child and the child's mother to cooperate with laboratory testing. In most states, the court will issue an order stating that you are the child's father if genetic test results come back 98 percent positive.

Your Actions Can Establish Paternity

In most states, the law assumes you are the father of any child born during your marriage. You don't have to do anything to prove paternity, but you might want to disprove it. If years have passed during which the child believes you are her father, this might be impossible.

Some states will not risk psychological harm to the child by allowing you to disprove paternity at this point. Some states will not allow the child's mother to try to disprove paternity either, but they might permit another man who believes he is in fact the child's biological father to request paternity testing

A Family Law Lawyer Can Help

The law surrounding the establishment of paternity as well as its rights and duties is complicated. Plus, the facts of each case are unique. This article provides a brief, general introduction to the topic. For more detailed, specific information, please contact a family law lawyer.

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