Family Law

Consequences of Paternity on Child Support

By Aaron Thomas, Attorney
When a court establishes that a man is the biological father of a child, what impact does that have on child support?

Paternity is the legal relationship between a father and child. When married parents have a child, the law considers the husband to be the legal father automatically. The father will have legal rights to custody of the child, such as the right to enroll the child in school, travel with the child, and access medical records.

When parents aren’t married, but a DNA test proves that a man is the biological father of a child, legal and physical custody rights don’t arise automatically, but a judge can require the father to pay child support. This article will explain the effect of paternity on child support. If you have additional questions after reading this article, contact a local family law attorney for help.

Basics of Child Support After Paternity

If the father’s paternity has been established, he may have to pay the child's mother a certain amount of child support on a regular basis, usually monthly. Courts in all jurisdictions calculate child support based on parents’ incomes. A typical child support calculation will factor in each parent’s income, as well as certain child expenses, such as health insurance and childcare costs.

Retroactive Child Support

Also called “back child support,” retroactive child support refers to payments by a noncustodial parent to a custodial parent for the period prior to a court ordering permanent child support. For example, if a mother files an action for child support against the unmarried father when the child is two years old, a court in a jurisdiction that recognizes back child support could order both child support going forward and an amount of child support the father would have paid over the past two years if child support had been in place.

Not all states recognize retroactive child support. Georgia, for example, will not order the noncustodial parent to pay child support for any period prior to a child support order’s date. Even if you’re in one of these jurisdictions, however, the mother may still receive an order for reimbursement for expenses actually incurred. For example, in Georgia, it’s common for judges to order the biological father to pay the mother a portion of the mother’s out-of-pocket prenatal and post-birth expenses.

In jurisdictions that don’t award retroactive child support, the mother must show what expenses she actually incurred and may receive an award for reimbursement of those expenses. If, for example, the father would have paid child support of $2,000 per month based on the parent’s respective incomes for two years prior to the child support order, but the mother only incurred a total of $5,000 of expenses, a Georgia court can’t order the father to pay the mother more than $5,000. In a jurisdiction where retroactive child support is allowed, a judge in the above example could order the father to pay $24,000 in back child support, plus a share of the prenatal and post-birth medical expenses.

Beyond Child Support

An order of child support doesn’t necessarily mean that the father will automatically get custodial and visitation rights. For example, in Georgia, the department of human services can bring a child support claim on behalf of a mother, and the office of state administrative hearings can calculate and order child support, without addressing custody or visitation.

If you are a father who wishes to obtain legal rights to have visitation time with a child, you’ll need to file a separate action. Rules on obtaining custody and visitation rights vary from state to state, so consult a local family law attorney for advice.

Still, across the nation, you can still establish all of the following in one legal action: paternity, legitimation, custody, visitation, and child support. The child’s parents can either consent to paternity, or the court can order a DNA test to establish paternity, depending on your jurisdiction. If there’s any doubt at all as to paternity, it’s best to insist on a DNA test.

Legitimation further establishes the legal relationship between father and child—a legitimated child may inherit from the father. But courts don't automatically grant custody or visitation rights to the father simply because paternity of the child has been established. Judges determine custody and visitation based on what’s in the child’s best interests.

Whether you’re a father looking to establish your legal rights with a child, or a mother looking to obtain court-ordered child support and formalize the father’s relationship with a child, you should consult with a local family law attorney for assistance.

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