Paternity in Family Law
When an unmarried woman has a child, paternity will need to be established before a father can be listed on the birth certificate, before the mother can seek support from the father and/or before standing for custody can be established. Establishing paternity can be as simple as the father executing an acknowledgment of paternity. The acknowledgment indicates the father is waiving his rights to any genetic testing or trial on the issue of paternity. If a father is unwilling to execute an acknowledgment or is simply unsure of the paternity of the child, genetic testing can be conducted so that the DNA results can be examined. Both parents will be ordered to participate in genetic testing. Failure to appear by the father can result in a court order declaring him as the father by default. Failure to appear by the mother can result in the court dismissing an action for support. Tests results alone are not sufficient to establish paternity. Instead, the parties must stipulate in writing that the test results prove paternity or the court must make an order on paternity after reviewing the test results.
Once an acknowledgment of paternity is signed, it is very difficult for a father to then try to allege the child is not his. An acknowledgment acts as conclusive evidence that the person who signed the acknowledgment is in fact the father of any subject child(ren). A court order on paternity will follow if the results indicate 99% probability of paternity. If paternity is established by court order, the decision is generally not immediately appealable. Instead, the appropriate time to appeal on the issue of paternity would be after a subsequent final child support or custody order. There is one exception to this rule based on paternity by estoppel. Paternity by estoppel recognizes a man as the father based on his role in the child’s life rather than the biological connection. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has recognized that paternity by estoppel is immediately appealable so as to protect the established parent-child relationship. In the most recent case, genetic testing proved that a child born to a married woman was not her husband’s child but rather the product of an affair. The paramour tried to file for custody and genetic testing proved he was the father however the court would not allow the custody order to go into effect due to the fact the husband had raised the child all along.