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Establishing Paternity

In Pennsylvania, a child born to a mother who is married to a man is presumed to be that man’s child.  This presumption can be overcome if the parties agree that the child does not belong to the husband, or if a genetic test shows that he is not the child’s father.  Generally speaking, most mothers’ husbands’ names are entered into the child’s birth certificate at the hospital (or soon after the child’s birth, if they were not born at a hospital).

For a father who is not married to his child’s mother, establishing paternity can be done in several ways.  If both the mother and father agree on his paternity of a child, they can complete an Acknowledgement of Paternity Form to add him to the child’s birth certificate. This is typically done within days of the child’s birth, but in some circumstances, parents may choose to do it later.

If a mother does not believe that a particular man is her child’s father, but he believes that he is, either party may petition the Court for genetic testing to establish the child’s true paternity.  If the Court grants the petition, then the father and the child will need to obtain genetic testing (typically just a painless swab that is sent off to a lab for analysis).  If the man turns out to be the child’s father, he can be added to the child’s birth certificate.

If a mother believes that a particular man is her child’s father, but he believes that he is not, she may either request genetic testing through Domestic Relations (which handles child support, as well), or she may petition the Court, depending on her individual circumstances.  If the man is determined to be the child’s father, he will likely be liable for child support, but it is important to keep in mind that he will also have parental rights to the child once paternity is established.

If parents question a child’s paternity later in the child’s life, the Court often will not order genetic testing, or will not choose to amend the child’s birth certificate to remove the previous “presumed” father.  The more years that a child has spent believing that one man is his or her father, and building a relationship with him, the less likely it is that the Court will intervene in determining paternity because it is often not in the child’s best interests to do so at that point.  This is called paternity by estoppel, and it may apply both in cases when a mother wants to disprove a man’s paternity and when a man does.  Even if one or both parties choose to pay for a DNA test on their own and definitively disprove a man’s paternity, it is still possible that the Court will not remove that man from the child’s birth certificate and that he will continue to enjoy parental rights (such as periods of physical custody) and be responsible for parental obligations (such as paying support).

If you are interested in learning more about establishing paternity, contact Tanner Law Offices at (717) 731-8114 to schedule a consultation with one of our attorneys.