The legal issue of paternity arises when two parents were not married at the time their child was conceived and/or born, and now one of the parents wants or needs financial support for the child.

When a couple is married, the law presumes that the children born during that marriage are children of the married partners. Both parents are financially responsible for the child until the child becomes a legal adult. However, in cases where a couple was not married, the law must first establish that the man and woman are the legal parents of the child before the law can impose financial obligations on that man and woman for the child. This action is called: Paternity.

Filing the Petition - A paternity case is started the same way as the dissolution of a marriage. The case begins after you file a petition with the court requesting that the court establish the parental relationship of the child and impose financial obligations.

After the petition is filed with the court, a copy of it must be given to (served on) the other person (called the Respondent). He or she then has 30 days to answer the petition by filing a response, which essentially admits, denies, or corrects the information in the petition. If no response has been filed within the required time, we can request entry of a default judgment, after which the Respondent can no longer contest or correct the petition.

Request for Orders from the Court (Hearing) - In some cases it is necessary for a party to seek immediate or emergency court orders after a case has been filed when the party cannot wait for the final disposition of his or her case or a trial date, either of which could be months away. When orders for child support, restraining orders or attorney fees are needed, the requesting party can file a Request for Order requiring the other party to appear in court on the requested date so that the court can consider the requests. These court orders, if granted, remain effective until replaced by later or final court orders.

Uncontested Cases - In cases where the parties can agree on all their issues and an agreement can be put into writing, then no response is needed and this can save the expense of court fees. Such a case can be handled on an uncontested basis; and usually with no court appearance by either party.

Contested Cases - In cases where an agreement cannot be reached on some or all of the issues, the matter is considered a "contested" matter. Either party can request that the case be put on the waiting list for a trial date, which the court will assign based upon its workload and the complexity of the case. Sometimes this process can take several months.

During this waiting period, there probably will be Investigation And Discovery. If there are disputes about biological parentage, custody, or support, then it is necessary to investigate the facts of the case by requesting information from the other party, from third parties (e.g., employers, family, friends, accountants, etc.) or from expert sources (e.g., blood/DNA analysis, custody evaluators, etc.) This information can be obtained in a number of ways. The most cost effective way: voluntarily. The information may also be obtained by court order, by subpoena, by an oral deposition (which is like an interview of a party, where both attorneys can question the person testifying).

Miscellaneous Issues - can include, but not be limited to:

I. Child Custody

II. Child Support

III. Estate Planning - if you have no Last Will and Testament ("Will"), now is the time to plan how your estate (your assets) will be distributed. The most important consideration is how your child will be cared for in case you are no longer able to care for him or her yourself. Please note that you need not "die" in order to find yourself in a situation where you are no longer able to care for your child. .

IV. Record Keeping - It is imperative that you keep records when any financial issues are present or when the court has made orders regarding payment of support. If a later dispute should arise about late or missing payments, you must be able to produce records showing payments made or received.

Final Judgment - Whether you had an uncontested matter, settled the case, or had a full-blown trial, the court will enter a judgment resolving all the issues of your case and establish or deny the parentage. At that point, all the orders will be finalized.

Caveat: This brief explanation of the paternity process is not designed to replace competent legal advice or consultation by our firm. It is simply a guide to understanding some of the issues that arise in the course of paternity matters.

If you would like to discuss your case with one of our experienced attorneys then Contact Us today.