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Let’s start with something that is either completely unimportant to you or totally controversial, depending on your situation: the presumption of paternity.

A man is presumed (that means the law says you are, unless you prove otherwise) to be the natural father of a child if any of the following applies:

  • He and the child’s natural mother were married at the time the child was born.
  • He and the child’s natural mother got married after the child was born but they had a relationship with each other when the child was conceived and no other man has been legally determined to be the father, and the child was not born while she was married to someone else.
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The only way to prove you are not the father is through a genetic test that shows that another man is more than 99% likely to be the father.

Get that? It doesn’t matter if the test proves you aren’t. You have to find the guy who is. And get his DNA. And it has to match. If he’s long gone, you’re the daddy.

While this seems – and is – unfair, the law here is balancing competing interests. You are a grown man. You can take care of yourself. Those kids who would be denied a dad, a caregiver, a financial support, marital legitimacy, they are a whole lot more helpless. So the law says there’s more to being a father than winning a DNA test. And kids need dads. It doesn’t seem so unfair when you think of it that way.

Check these topics for more information:
Who Can Start A Paternity Action In Court?
Can The Court Order Me To Be Tested? What If I Refuse? Who Pays For It, Anyway?
How Is Paternity Determined?
What Kinds Of Evidence Does The Court Consider In A Paternity Case?
Am I Entitled To A Jury?
What Happens After The Court Enters A Judgment?
What Happens If I Just Donít Show Up?

Who Can Start A Paternity Action In Court?

The following may bring an action or file a motion for the purpose of determining the paternity of a child:

  • The child.
  • The child’s natural mother.
  • A male presumed to be the child’s father.
  • A male alleged or alleging himself to be the father of the child.
  • The personal representative of any of the above if the above have died.
  • The legal or physical custodian of the child.
  • The state under certain circumstances.
  • A guardian ad litem appointed for the child.
  • The child’s grandparent (or alleged grandparent) if the parent is a teen parent (or otherwise dependant) and the grandparent is potentially liable for maintenance of the child.

Unless the male is the presumed father, or has been previously adjudicated (court ordered) to be the father, the male cannot be ordered to pay child support or have custody or placement on even a temporary basis.

The person starting the action has the burden of proof, meaning that they are the ultimate ones with the responsibility to prove whatever it is they want to the court.
Can The Court Order Me To Be Tested? What If I Refuse? Who Pays For It, Anyway?

The court may, and upon request of a party must, require any of the following to submit to genetic testing:

  • the child,
  • the mother,
  • any male for whom there is probable cause to believe he had sexual intercourse with the mother during a possible time of the child’s conception,
  • any male witness who testifies or will testify about his sexual relations with the mother at a possible time of conception.

“Probable cause” can be established by affidavit of the mother or the man claiming to have had sex with her during a time relevant to conception.

“Genetic test” means a test that examines genetic markers present on blood cells, skin cells, tissue cells, bodily fluid cells or cells of another body material for the purpose of determining the statistical probability of an alleged father’s paternity.

The testing must be performed by a qualified expert. If the tests show that the alleged father is not excluded and that the statistical probability of the alleged father’s parentage is 99.0% or higher, the alleged father will be presumed to be the child’s parent. He is entitled to present evidence to overcome this presumption.

Refusal to submit to testing is contempt of court.

If the paternity test was brought by the mother and she refuses to submit to testing, or she won’t let the child be tested, the action will be dismissed.

As a general rule, the County pays for the first round of tests, but the person requesting additional tests pays for the second set.

If after the first test you appear to be the father, the court can temporarily order you to provide support and grant you visitation while the action concludes.
How Is Paternity Determined?

Several ways.

First, a man can voluntarily acknowledge a child. He files a paper with the state registrar, subject to a right to rescind such statement. The right to rescind expires after 60 days, or when a court issues any order relying on the acknowledgement. Once the rescission period expires, the man is conclusively presumed to be the father. There’s no changing it at that point, at least not for you. The court can override it, however, if it was fraudulent or mistaken to begin with.

Second, genetic testing can lead to a conclusive finding of non-paternity if your test shows you could not have been the father. In that event, you are let out of the case immediately. Note that the opposite is not true: a positive match does not make you the father. You still have an opportunity to challenge that evidence.

Third, at any time during the case the parties can enter into a stipulation agreeing about who the father is. This has similar affect as voluntary acknowledgement, above, and usually will involve such an acknowledgment. Stipulations will not be approved unless they provide for child support.

Fourth, the court can make recommendations to you at a pretrial hearing. The court is permitted to recommend, based on the evidence:

  • That the action be dismissed.
  • That the alleged father voluntarily acknowledge paternity of the child.
  • If the alleged father voluntarily acknowledges paternity of the child, that he agree to the duty of support, the legal custody of the child, periods of physical placement of the child and other matters as determined to be in the best interests of the child by the court.
The parties are free to accept or reject the recommendations.

Finally, the case can go to trial. The trial is divided into two parts. The first part determines whether the alleged or presumed father is in fact the father. The second determines child support, legal custody, periods of physical placement, and related issues.
What Kinds Of Evidence Does The Court Consider In A Paternity Case?

Evidence relating to paternity, whether given at the trial or the pretrial hearing, may include, but is not limited to:

  • Evidence of sexual intercourse between the mother and alleged father at any possible time of conception
  • Evidence of a relationship between the mother and alleged father at any time.
  • An expert’s opinion concerning the statistical probability of the alleged father’s paternity based upon the duration of the mother’s pregnancy.
  • Genetic test results.
  • The statistical probability of the alleged father’s paternity based upon the genetic tests.
  • Medical, scientific or genetic evidence relating to the alleged father’s paternity of the child based on tests performed by experts.
  • All other evidence relevant to the issue of paternity of the child.
  • Evidence presented by an alleged father that some other guy who is not part of the hearing may have had sex with the mother during the window for conception, but only if the alleged father submitted to genetic testing.

The court will NOT consider

  • Testimony about sexual relations or possible sexual relations of the mother at any time other than the possible time of conception of the child, unless the mother brings it up.
  • Genetic or Medical evidence filed with the court during a termination of parental rights case.
Am I Entitled To A Jury?

Yes, at the trial. If you request a jury at or before the pretrial hearing (the one where the judge makes recommendations), a jury of 6 people will be selected, of which 5 must be in agreement to reach a verdict.
What Happens After The Court Enters A Judgment?

One of the first things the court will do, right after entering an order that the man found to be the father is now the father for all further purposes, is enter orders relating to child support and custody. All of the determinations that go into these two areas will be made by the court after a paternity finding in the same manner they would be during a divorce or legal separation.

If both parents request it, the child’s name can be changed at this time.

The court may also order the man found to be the father to pay back child support, but only back to the beginning of the paternity case. (Exceptions apply if the guy behaved badly, causing the case to be prolonged.)
What Happens If I Just Don’t Show Up?

If the mother does not show up or fails to do genetic testing or comply with other orders, the court can dismiss the action (if she is the one who filed it).

If the alleged father fails to show up or fails to do genetic testing or comply with other orders, the court can find him to be the father. The exception would be if there are two or more alleged fathers, in which case the court can’t pick on the one who did not appear. The court can, however, find him to be the father if he previously submitted to genetic testing and the odds of him being the father are 99% or higher.

Both of the above – called default judgments – can be reopened for good cause.