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What are the Basics of Paternity Law?

Article Details
  • Written By: Daphne Mallory
  • Edited By: Melissa Wiley
  • Last Modified Date: 16 October 2017
  • Copyright Protected:
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    Conjecture Corporation
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Paternity law is a part of family law that governs the father’s rights to a child born out of wedlock. A parent of a child who is born to an unmarried couple often has to initiate a paternity case in order to establish paternity rights and enforce the responsibilities of paternity. Courts use paternity laws to determine the identity of the biological father and award child custody and visitation rights as well as child support. It’s often difficult or impossible for an unmarried mother or father to get a court to award child support or custodial rights without a finding of paternity in a court proceeding. The courts often rely on DNA testing, and most parties to a paternity lawsuit will settle the issue once they obtain test results.

DNA testing is used to establish paternity in cases, but paternity law often only allows it when paternity is contested by one of the parties. A scientist examines the father’s blood for genetic material that matches the child’s. The mother’s blood is also tested and compared to the child’s blood so that the scientist can isolate and analyze genetic material in the child that does not belong to the mother. The material isolated is compared to that of the father in question. The accuracy of the test is said to be at least 99 percent, which is why the evidence is often admissible in paternity cases and is relied upon so heavily by judges.

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A government attorney, such as a district attorney, may prosecute a case for the purposes of collecting child support in many jurisdictions. The role of the government attorney is often to enforce the provisions of the paternity law pertaining to the financial care of the children born to unwed couples, and the benefit to the parent who receives child support is incidental. Individuals can also hire their own attorneys to represent them, especially if they want the court to also address custody and visitation rights. If the losing party earns a greater income, the winning party is often entitled to reimbursement for legal costs according to the paternity law in the region. Awarding legal fees is often at the discretion of the court and does not apply if the pro se litigant also happens to be a lawyer.

Parents can write and formalize a parenting agreement in a court order and avoid a costly and emotional court battle. Paternal law still requires that the biological father establish paternity through the courts, but once the issue is settled, both parties can utilize mediation or informal negotiations to reach a custody and visitation agreement. The judge will review the agreement, approve it, and make it a court order.

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