You did the right thing when your girlfriend came to you with the news she was pregnant—you signed an admission of paternity (conveniently provided to you by your local district attorney) and started making the obligatory monthly child support payments.
Now, your girlfriend wants to break up and wants nothing to do with you. And oh, by the way, she has a news flash for you. You know the child you've been supporting? The little girl who's been calling you daddy and snuggling on your lap? The child you've been buying birthday and Christmas gifts for over the last six years? Guess what, sucker, you're not the baby's daddy after all.
What now? What about the over $20,000 in child support payments you've made over the past six years? It sure adds up fast, doesn't it? Are you entitled to get that money back?
The answer, unfortunately in today's legal environment, is no. In fact, under the laws of most states, even if you find out the child you've been supporting is not your biological child, you will still be on the hook for child support until the child reaches 18.
More often than is widely known, a paternity case may turn out to be the kind of situation where nice guys actually finish last. Mothers who are receiving state aid are required to provide the district attorney with the name of the child's father so that the county can recover a portion of that aid through child support payments. Mothers who are not receiving state aid can also go to the district attorney for assistance in collecting child support payments.
Unfortunately, studies have shown that, for a variety of reasons, including fear, wishful thinking, or not wanting to be joined for life to the jerk who is the baby's daddy, single moms may provide the DA with the wrong name in connection with a child support claim. And many men, having absolutely no reason to doubt that the child belongs to them, do the right thing and start making those monthly payments, no questions asked.
Under the laws of most states, once a man has signed an acknowledgment of paternity and a judgment of paternity has been entered by the Court, it's a done deal and there's no turning back. In the eyes of the law, a father-child relationship has been established.
For obvious reasons, legal movers and shakers have no reason to want to change that. They are interested in collecting child support payments from a father. Unfortunately, in some instances, any father will do. Once you're on the hook, they have no reason to want to let you go.
But, paternity has been voided in some cases where there is strong evidence that the man in question is not the father. The men involved were able to obtain scientific evidence through DNA testing that the child truly was not theirs and they were able to convince the DA or the courts to make an exception.
The lesson: All men faced with a claim of paternity should request DNA testing before admitting paternity or signing anything. This is your legal right. And, it holds true no matter how much you trust the mother of your child. Trust has little to do with it.
It is an obligation you owe not only to yourself and to the child's mother, but to the child as well. Paternity has implications that reach far beyond an obligation to make monthly child support payments. The father-child relationship carries with it strong emotional and psychological bonds.
Beyond this, once a man is legally adjudged to be a child's father, he can have his wages garnished for child support and can be court-ordered to seek employment. He can also be criminally prosecuted and do jail time if he fails to make child support payments. Also, under the laws of most states, the child will be obligated to support the father if he becomes incapacitated. And, unless specifically excluded by will, the child will be entitled to share in the father's estate after he dies. Thus, as one court noted, the implications of a father-child relationship "reach beyond the grave."
So start things off on the right foot and get the paternity issue settled at the outset. Once you're on the hook for child support, it may very well be too late to turn back the clock. If at some point down the road evidence surfaces that the child may not be yours, good luck trying to get your local district attorney to agree to a DNA test at that point. It ain't gonna happen.
Bottom line: Will you be entitled to a refund of child support later on, if it comes to light that you are not the child's father after all? No. Can you undo the emotional damage to you and to the child? Probably not. Your child deserves to have you go into this with your whole heart. So, take care of the legal stuff now, put it behind you, and get on with the business of raising your child.
This portion of the site is for informational purposes only. The content is not legal advice. The statements and opinions are the expression of author, not LegalZoom, and have not been evaluated by LegalZoom for accuracy, completeness, or changes in the law.