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Paternity and Child Support

Did you know that determining paternity, or “who is the father?” plays a key role in legal issues such as child support? What’s more, determining paternity may be more complicated than it seems- there are actually a variety of parenthood circumstances that determine whether a parent is required to pay child support or has the right to visitation or to seek custody.

Sometimes, it is necessary to file a court suit to determine a child’s father, called a paternity action, establishment hearing, filiation hearing, or parentage action. A paternity action can be brought by either mother or father. Without a paternity action, there are different legal issues to consider with each set of circumstances.

In some states, if paternity is assumed or agreed upon, it cannot be disputed. In Michael H. v. Gerald D., 491 U.S. 110 (1989), the U.S. Supreme Court upheld California’s presumed father statute as “a rational method of protecting the integrity of the family against challenges based on the due process rights of the father and the child.” A presumed father is required to pay child support. A man is considered a presumed father if any of the following qualifications applies:

  • The man was married to the child’s mother when the child was born or conceived. In some states, this does not apply if the couple has separated.
  • The man attempted to marry the mother, and the child was conceived or born during the attempted marriage. This applies even if the marriage was never made valid.
  • The man and mother married after the child was born, and the man agreed to either have his name on the child’s birth certificate or to support the child.
  • The man welcomed the child into his home and otherwise treated the child as his own.

Other circumstances of paternity include:

  • Acknowledged father. A man is an acknowledged father when he is proved to be the biological father of a child of unmarried parents. An acknowledged father establishes paternity by either his own admission, or by agreement of the parents, and he must pay child support.
  • Equitable parent. In some states, a spouse who is not a biological or adoptive parent can gain custody by being an equitable parent. This is when a parent has a close relationship with the child, or a relationship that was encouraged by the biological parent. If equitable custody is granted to a parent, then that parent will be required to pay child support. This type of parenthood has become more prevalent as more states have legalized same-sex marriage.
  • Stepfather. A stepfather is married to the biological mother, but is not the biological father of the mother’s children. Unless the stepfather legally adopts the children, he is not required to pay child support.
  • Alleged father. An alleged father, sometimes called an unwed father, is an unmarried man who impregnates a woman. If an alleged father admits to paternity, he will be obligated to pay child support, and also has the right to visitation and to seek custody.