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HOW TO DEAL WITH PATERNITY CASES

INTRODUCTION: More than 40% of American children are born out of wedlock. The fathers of these children often will become involved in paternity cases to determine their parental responsibilities. If you are one of these fathers, here are some things you should do.

YOU & YOUR UNBORN CHILD:Your responsibilities as a father begin the instant that your child is conceived. Presently, there are no effective legal steps that you can take to prevent the mother of your unborn child from aborting the child during her first trimester of pregnancy. In most states you have the legal obligation to provide financial support to the mother of your child during the course of her pregnancy if you wish to prevent her from putting the child up for adoption. Some states even require that you sign a registry of potential fathers in order to contest the adoption of your child. To find out what you must do under the laws of your state to prevent the possible adoption of your unborn child, you should contact at least 3 attorneys who do a significant amount of adoption work in your state. Ask the attorneys how many contested adoption cases that they have handled and whether they have represented the party contesting the adoption. If the attorney has not done any contested adoptions, they may not be very knowledgeable about what steps you have to take in order to prevent an adoption. When an attorney tells you what steps you need to take to prevent the adoption, you should cross check those steps with at least one other qualified attorney. After you have found out what steps to take in order to prevent the adoption, you should follow those steps exactly as required by the law. DON'T IGNORE THE SUMMONS:One of the dumbest things you can do is to ignore a summons on a paternity case just because you do not believe that you are the father of the child involved in the case. You also should not ignore a summons because it was delivered to the wrong person or the wrong address. By ignoring the summons, the you may have a default judgment entered against you, which would require you to pay thousands of dollars in child support. Immediately, upon learning that a court action is being pursued against you, it is a good idea for you to contact an attorney to assist you. If you cannot afford an attorney try to find a paralegal to assist you in filing the necessary forms in response to the documents you have received. At the very least, you should personally show up in court as required by the summons and make your appearance in the case. When you personally appear in court, ask for blood tests to determine the paternity of the child involved in the case. You also should ask the court for a parental contact schedule with the child if you are the father of the child. ACKNOWLEDGMENT OF PATERNITY:Almost all states have programs to get fathers to acknowledge the paternity of a child while the child is still in the hospital following the birth of the child. It is not generally a good idea to sign these forms unless you are 110% certain that you are the father of the child and that you are willing to pay the tens of thousands of dollars that will be ordered by the court for the support of the child. Title IV-D agencies (which are responsible for filing paternity cases on the behalf of the various states) often will ask fathers to come in and sign an acknowledgment of paternity and an order requiring the father to begin paying child support. Often these agencies will tell prospective child support payers that they will get a special deal on child support if they voluntarily sign the papers. While this is sometimes the truth, you should not sign any legal papers until you have had an attorney review them with you. If you have any doubts about the paternity of the child in question, you should politely ask for genetic testing to determine paternity. As long as you are cooperative with the Title IV-D agency in taking the genetic tests and providing your financial information to the agency they will normally cut you the same deal they were promising when they were asking you to blindly sign the court orders. PATERNITY TESTING:When you consider that a child support payment of just $100per month would cause you to pay over $20,000 during the minority of any child, you should strongly consider having a paternity test done in any case where you are not married to the mother of the child. For everyone's state of mind, this test will clarify whether you are the father of the child and may prevent future relationship problems with the child if one side or the other tries to deny paternity at some later date. Under the Uniform Parentage Act (which has been passed in most states) a man is legally presumed to be the father of any child in which genetic testing shows that there is a 97% or higher probability that the man is the father of the child. Genetic paternity tests cost between $250 & $1000 depending upon your area. One current testing method uses a swab to take skin cells from the inside of the mouth. The DNA composition of these cells is then analyzed. This method does not use any needles, is totally painless and is every bit as accurate as blood testing. FILING FIRST:Under the Uniform Parentage Act, you have the right to file a paternity action if you believe you MAY be the father of the child. If you believe that you may be the father of a child born out of wedlock, you may wish to file a paternity action first for two main reasons: First, if you are the father of a child, that child will need you to fulfill your responsibilities as a parent to that child. If the mother of your child does not want you to have contact with the child, the only way that you can legally make this contact happen is to get an order from the court requiring that you have contact with the child. Secondly, if you are proven to be the father of a child that does not live in your home, you will be required to pay child support for the benefit of the child. Under federal and state law, you will be required to pay back any costs associated with providing welfare benefits for the child or for otherwise raising the child. These costs can run into the hundreds (if not thousands of dollars) each month and are normally much higher than a child support order would be for the father to pay. If a father makes child support payments as required by a court order, the father generally does not have to make further payments for the benefit of the child to state agencies. By filing a paternity action right after the birth of the child, you may be able to save yourself thousands of dollars of payments to state agencies who might become involved in helping the child.

Note: Paying child support directly to the mother does not always count under Title IV-D. You must make child support payments as required by a court order. Buying items like diapers, clothes, and food does not count as child support.

MAKING CONTACT WITH THE CHILD:Generally, when a state agency files a paternity action it does not do anything to assist fathers in setting up a parental time sharing schedule with their child. Normally, the agency asks the court for an order requiring the father to pay child support and to give the mother full custody of the child. This means the father will have to file a motion with the court to establish joint legal custody of the child and requesting that the court establish a parental time sharing schedule. Many court systems provide the necessary forms for fathers to request the issuance of parental time sharing orders. If your court system does not provide such forms and you cannot afford to hire a good family law attorney, try asking the attorney how much it would cost for his assistant to draft up the forms for you to use as your own attorney. Pay the attorney a consultation fee so that he can explain how to file the papers and what do in court. Other low cost options include the use of paralegal services in areas where they are available. Once you file your motion to have contact with the child, it is very likely that you will be ordered to go to mediation to set up a parenting schedule. If mediation fails, the judge will have to order a time sharing plan.

One problem many unwed fathers have when they are served with notice of a paternity action is not knowing the mother's address in order to serve her with the court documents required to establish parenting schedules. There are several ways to handle this problem. One way is to request that the agency filing the action serve the papers upon the mother (which they will sometimes do and sometimes won't). If the agency will not serve the mother with the motion to establish parental time sharing orders, the agency is generally bound to serve the mother with interrogatories served upon the agency. Interrogatories are written questions that the rules of civil procedure require litigants to answer. The first interrogatory is generally -- what is your name, address and phone number. If the mother refuses to answer this question, the case may be dismissed and the mother would lose all her welfare benefits and/or the ability to receive child support so there is a strong incentive to provide this information. There are a number of available options to find someone of the internet.

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Q: Paternity Case-What to do if informed you have fathered an out-of-wedlock child?
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