If you're going through the divorce or legal separation process, you may be negotiating child support and custody with your soon-to-be ex-spouse. These discussions can be completely derailed by the revelation that your child has another father. What if a paternity test determines that the child you thought was yours is not biologically related to you? Are you still obligated to pay child support? Read on to learn more about how these situations are treated across the United States.
When can you be ordered to pay child support on a child who isn't yours?
Laws governing child custody and support vary from state to state. However, in most states, once someone has signed an affidavit of paternity or has been listed as father on a birth certificate, he is considered the child's legal father until court action is taken to change this status. In other states, a mother may be able to list your name as father on a legal document without your consent. One specific case recently made news when a man from Detroit was required to pay child support for more than 20 years after it had been proven he was not the father of the child in question (now an adult).
In general, courts will require you to pay child support regardless of paternity in situations where a relationship has already been established with the child or (in some cases) if the child and his or her mother are receiving state aid. In the court's view, the best future for the child involves having a relationship with both parents -- regardless of bloodlines. One part of forging this relationship between you and your non-biological child is the payment of funds to help provide food, shelter, and clothing.
Courts may also feel that the child need not be punished because your soon-to-be ex-spouse was dishonest about her child's conception.
What should you do to protect yourself in this situation?
If you'd like to continue a relationship with your child but are worried about being roped into decades of child support, you may be able to negotiate with your soon-to-be ex-spouse outside court. In some cases, she may choose to waive child support in exchange for a greater share of retirement accounts or other marital assets. Although this still requires you to give in a bit, it will help prevent you from being ordered to pay to support a child who isn't biologically yours (up to and often including a college education).
In other cases, it may be best to track down the biological father. If there is another individual in the picture who is capable of providing support, courts will look to this individual instead of a non-relative. To learn more about family law, visit Tracy McMurtrie Luck & Associates.