Determining Paternity In Pennsylvania Family Law Cases

Paternity is often a very important issue in family law cases.  Most people have watched episodes of “Jerry Springer” or “Maury” where whole shows are based on revealing paternity test results to a couple, which either turns out to be good news or a not-so-great revelation that causes fighting on the set (cue the Bodyguards!)  However, in the family court realm, paternity is an issue that is taken much more seriously than may be portrayed on television.

Read further to learn about Paternity in Pennsylvania and how it is determined.

The status of paternity depends on whether the mother of the child is married or unmarried. If the mother is married, then the law creates a presumption that her husband is the father of a child born during the marriage.  If the family remains intact, then this presumption is nearly irrebuttable, meaning it is difficult and nearly impossible to present evidence refuting that the husband of the marriage is not the father of the children born of the marriage.

If the parents were once married and are now separated or divorced, the ex-husband can attempt to rebut this presumption with evidence that he is physically unable to have children because of sterility, or “lack of sexual access” to his ex-wife.

Another doctrine exists in PA to determine paternity called “Paternity by Estoppel.”  This is when the husband has held the child out to be his own child and supported the child during the marriage. The children may have become dependent on this “assumed relationship,” and in this instance, the court is reluctant to allow the now ex-husband to challenge paternity.  The law effectively says he is “estopped” or denied from challenging paternity.

If the mother of the children are not married, then the child is considered a “non-marital” child.  If the alleged father of the children acknowledges his paternity in writing and the mother agrees, then paternity is determined by this mutual agreement.  If this is not done, and often it is not, then the child or the mother can bring a lawsuit with the goal of determining paternity.  This is done through DNA Testing, and if evidence exists through this blood testing that the defendant is in fact the father, this is conclusive evidence of paternity.

Figuring out paternity in a legal sense is important in Pennsylvania family law cases because once paternity is “adjudicated” or decided, this establishes the duty of child support for the child’s biological father.

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