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Family Law Blog

What to do if Paternity is in Question

Published: Sep 26, 2022 in Child Custody
Doctor doing medical paternity test

Written by Anthony Piccirilli

Confusion about parentage hampers a court’s ability to order and collect child support for the benefit of the children. While the mother’s identity is usually easy to determine, paternity is not always as apparent.

What is Paternity?

Simply put, “paternity” means fatherhood.

In Pennsylvania, when a child is born to a woman who is not married to anyone at the time of birth, no legal relationship between the newborn and a father has been created.

If the baby’s mother and father are married at the time of the child’s birth, paternity is automatically established. The husband is assumed to be the baby’s biological father, and his name appears on the infant’s birth certificate.

Why it is Important to Establish Paternity

There are several reasons why establishing paternity is essential, not only to a child but to their parents and families.

Paternity allows a father to exercise his rights and fulfill his obligations to his offspring. A man who seeks to assert parental rights must first establish paternity. A mother seeking child support must discover who the baby’s birth father is so the right man can fulfill their financial responsibilities.

It is crucial to note that parenting time with a child is only granted by a family court when parentage is determined. In other words, the legal parents of a baby are entitled to parenting time with the child, while a man without legal paternity is not given that right.

Establishing paternity is important because it gives the:

  • Child the right to receive child support from the father
  • Father-child visitation or custody rights
  • Biological Father the right to make decisions about the child’s upbringing through legal custody
  • Child eligibility for benefits, such as medical insurance and inheritance, from the biological father
  • Child access to their medical and family history

Why & How is Paternity Disputed?

If someone denies fathering a child, they may be trying to avoid their responsibility as a parent. They may not want to pay child support or provide an inheritance.

In other cases, someone may deny being a father because they know they were not responsible for the child’s conception.

To contest paternity, a potential biological father could submit evidence of the mother’s infidelity, his infertility, or point to faulty DNA testing.

Alternatively, a mother may believe that a father used someone else’s DNA to cheat the test. A family law attorney could find and present evidence to contest or reinforce paternity.

How to Establish Paternity

If paternity is not automatically established when a baby is born, some steps can be taken to have a man named a child’s legal father. Paternity can be determined in one of two ways: voluntarily or involuntary.

How to Establish Voluntary Paternity

If both the mother and father agree the man is, in fact, the child’s biological father, paternity can be determined voluntarily.

Signing a VAP

Both parents must sign a “Voluntary Acknowledgment of Paternity” form (VAP) before a witness, someone 18 or older, and not the baby’s parents.

Often, a VAP is signed at a medical facility when a baby is born. The document is also available at the Domestic Relations office of county courts throughout the state.

Filing the VAP with the Correct Entities

Once signed, a VAP must be filed with or delivered to the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare (DPW). Once the document is filed correctly, the father is considered the baby’s legal father, and his name will be added to the infant’s birth certificate.

What if the Mother Refuses to Sign the VAP?

If a man claiming to be the baby’s father files a VAP, but the mother does not or will not sign it, the DPW can still accept the filing and his claim of paternity.

However, when fatherhood is determined in this manner, no legal rights to the child accompany the finding under Pennsylvania law. It merely gives the father the right to be notified if another man seeks to adopt the child as his own formally.

He also is not ordered to pay child support nor confer benefits on the child, such as medical insurance. The flip side is that he is also not awarded any visitation or parenting time with the infant.

If a man wants all those rights associated with fatherhood, and the mother refuses to cooperate, he must pursue involuntary paternity through the court system.

How to Establish Involuntary Paternity

To be granted full legal rights to a child under 18 in Pennsylvania, a man must request an ‘order of paternity’ from a court. While it may seem counter-intuitive, this legal action is labeled ‘involuntary’ because someone is disputing paternity.

To establish paternity, either the mother or the alleged father files a “Petition to Determine Paternity” with the Family Court in their county. Mothers can also file a “Complaint for Child Support” with the family court.

What if Either Parent Denies Paternity?

If the mother or the putative (good faith) father denies paternity, the court may order DNA or genetic testing of the child and the man.

If tests determine he is, in fact, the child’s biological father, the court issues an order of paternity. That labels him the child’s legal father, and his name is added to the baby’s birth certificate.

Contact Us To Discuss Your Paternity Matter

Establishing the paternity of a child is vital so that children know their parentage and that the rights and responsibilities associated with fatherhood are assigned to the right man.

Attorney Anthony Piccirilli has been advising families on how to proceed when paternity is in question for over a decade, and he is ready to stand by your side to assist you, too.

Contact us today for a confidential consultation establishing or challenging paternity in Pennsylvania. Call (412) 471-5100 or email for an appointment.