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What Happens in a Paternity Suit

D'Cotledge Mediation
July 15, 2021

What Happens in a Paternity Suit

When you hear the words "paternity suit," most people imagine a reality television host announcing who's the father of a child for the enjoyment of an overly eager audience on national television. While finding out if you're the father of a child might happen in front of an audience for some, most of the time, men find out through a paternity suit. 

Paternity suits can happen for several reasons. In most cases, it's a woman filing to have an ex-boyfriend, husband, etc., find out if they are the father of her child, and have them legally acknowledge paternity over the child. But there have been cases of men filing too. Regardless, paternity suits can be very emotional and life-changing for the parents, but the lawsuits are mainly used for the benefit of the child alone. 

What is a paternity suit?

A paternity suit, or a paternal action, is a type of lawsuit used by a parent, usually a mother, to prove the identity of the child's father and start the groundwork of custody agreements and child support. Typically this lawsuit happens after a man denies he is the father of a child and the mother uses the lawsuit to prove he is the father. Usually, the lawsuit will later be the blueprint for setting up child support and even visitation rights.

Who can file for a paternity suit?

There is a big misconception that only mothers can file a paternity suit when it is a bit more complex than that. The people who file paternity suits can be:

  • The mother; if she wants support or a legal acknowledgment of paternity from the father
  • The child's father; if he wants to gain custody or establish himself as a legal guardian
  • A child who would like more of a relationship with one of the parents or if they have an issue with death benefits
  • The state if they want to secure reimbursement of support to the mother and child

How much does a paternity suit cost?

Paternity suits can be expensive, but it's important to note that the prices vary depending on state laws and income. Currently, if the mother files for a court paternity case, the average fee is nominal. There is also a filing fee of $20 if the mother filed for a Motion for Genetic Testing. For the father, on the other hand, there is no filing fee for a paternity case if he believes he is the father or when the prosecutor brings a paternity test

However, if the person filing the paternity suit applies for a waiver when they can't afford the filing fee, based on their income, or if the person receives public benefits, their court fees can be dropped. In some cases, state child support agencies funded by the federal Temporary Aid to Needy Families (TANF) will even file the paternity suit on behalf of a parent who can't afford the suit. 

How does the process work?

As previously mentioned, the process depends on the state's law, which can vary greatly. If the mother is the one to file the paternity suit, it can go like this:

  • After the mother files the suit, she will likely sign an affidavit identifying the alleged father for the court.
  • Once the father has been located, he will be given a chance to acknowledge paternity willingly, and if he does not, the lawsuit will continue.
  • Afterward, the father, child, and sometimes the mother will all have to submit to genetic testing. 
  • Usually, the results will be released during the second hearing, and the court can decide if there is proof of paternity.
  • The father can contest the results if he is the biological father, but if not, the results will be viewed as proof of paternity after 60 days.

This process can be altered or changed depending on who files the paternity suit, but this does give a good idea of what happens in court. The length of a paternity test can range from days to months to years, depending on each party and the state laws. There is no "average" amount of time because each case can be highly different. 

However, in a case where a father denies the paternity of his child, the case can take months if both parties live close to each other. A decent estimate can be six to nine months. If the father lives further, it can even take years. It's also important to keep in mind, setting up child support and custody for each parent can take months to process as well. 

What happens after a paternity suit?

What happens after a paternity suit can depend on a lot of different factors. The factors being what each parent decided on, how the lawsuit proceeded in court, etc. For the most part, a DNA test will have been taken between the child in the lawsuit and the alleged father. The results will be released at a second hearing. 

If the man was proven to be the biological father, a court will analyze his income and then decide how much he should pay monthly to the child's mother. The costs can change depending on custody agreements and state laws, but for one child, an average of twenty percent of the father's income will go to the mother each month. 

The more children the father has, the more he'll have to pay. For example, he'll pay 25% of his income for two children, and for three children, it is 30%. For five children or more, it can be up to 40%. Afterward, both parents can decide how to move forward and reach an agreement on how they want to raise their child.

However, if he was found out not to be the father, there are multiple ways things can play out. 

If the man doesn't want to be involved in raising the child, he can find ways to be no longer involved with the mother and child. For example, if he had been previously paying child support, some states would terminate the child support payments, and others might make him continue to pay for a short period of time. 

Keep in mind, it is very rare for a father to get reimbursed in child support payments even if it is proven he wasn't the father. As this often depends on the laws in your area, we highly recommend researching more on your state laws if you have any specific questions. 

Suppose he signed the Voluntary Acknowledgement of Paternity or a birth certificate, legally claiming the child. In that case, some states might allow him to no longer support the child financially, or their mother and others might still make him pay for child support. It all depends on the state and what a court thinks is best for the child. 

However, if the man does still want to be involved, he has multiple options. If he was never married to the mother and didn't sign a Voluntary Acknowledgment of Paternity document, he can still file for legal guardianship of the child. The court will decide to see if he's fit to be a legal guardian and determine what's best for the child. 

If the child was born during the couple's marriage, but the father later found out he wasn't the biological father, he is still considered the legal guardian in most cases. When/if the couple divorces and they have a custody battle, this is probably the easiest situation if the father still wants to have legal guardianship of their non-biological child. 

How mediation can help!

Mediation can be very helpful for both parties during or after a paternity suit. Regardless of how involved each parent wants to be in their child's life, things like child support, custody, visitation, and medical care still need to be discussed. Mediation can help each parent discuss their needs and wants for their child and reach an agreement in a productive way without having to follow the mandate of an uninvolved judge. 

This can also improve communication between parents to start laying the groundwork to create a more civil relationship. Also, mediation is less time-consuming and expensive than taking the case to court would be. So, it can be equally beneficial, financially and emotionally, for both parents to set up some mediation. 

While a paternity suit can seem very intimidating from the outside, it can be a very beneficial process. The lawsuit can give clarity and support to both parents and give them resources for how to move on from then on out. Therefore, it is essential to meet with a family law Mediator in your area before deciding to file a paternity suit of any kind.  If you still have questions, you can find free guides on legal matters on our website, and you can contact us for more help. 

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