A paternity attorney is a family law attorney who specializes in cases where the paternity of a child is at question or is a subject of contention. These attorneys can represent purported fathers, as well as mothers, interested in establishing paternity. They are most commonly found in urban areas, where there are enough residents to provide a sufficient caseload. Some are willing to travel for work, although they will bill their clients for travel expenses, as well as lodging and meals.
The task of a paternity attorney is to represent one side in court in a paternity suit. A man who believes he is the father of a child could retain legal counsel to help him get a court order for paternity testing and fight for full or partial custody of the child. Conversely, a man who thinks he is not a child's father may use a paternity attorney to fight a paternity suit, arguing that he does not owe child support and other benefits to a child because he is not related. Mothers can request the services of a paternity attorney to help them file suit in court when they want to establish the parentage of a child to obtain custody or get access to support payments.
The attorney usually tries to keep the case out of court, if possible, because this can be expensive and time consuming. Sometimes, just retaining an attorney is enough to move forward with genetic testing and reach a settlement, if necessary, regarding custody and child support payments. The other side may not be interested in fighting a protracted legal battle. In other instances, it is necessary to go to court, and the attorney will argue on behalf of the client to support claims or statements being made.
The attorney researches relevant laws and can conduct an investigation to collect information about the family and its history. These attorneys may have some training in genetics, to apply their skills to requesting appropriate testing and reading or challenging test results. They can also call upon experts as needed.
Like other family law specialists, paternity attorneys must complete law school and pass the bar before they can practice. They usually take additional elective classes in family law while in school and take advantage of internships in firms where family law is practiced. After they are qualified before the bar, they can apply for entry level positions in family law firms to get experience. They may choose to remain with firms, or can branch out on their own after acquiring some experience in the field.
Fees for a paternity attorney tend to be higher than for someone who acts as general counsel, because this is a specialty service. People interested in hiring such attorneys should be prepared to pay an up-front fee and will be periodically billed for hours.