When a child is born to a married couple, both partners are named on the birth certificate, but for fathers, this can be a complicated thing. After all, maternity is easily shown, but paternity isn’t nearly so reliable. That means that in the event of a divorce, some men choose to challenge paternity rather than pay child support.
Paternity challenges raise important questions about the role of biology in fatherhood: does biology make a father or is fatherhood a matter of relationships? Simply put, it depends on whom you ask.
Paternity Actions In Indiana
In Indiana, married couples are automatically assumed to be the parents of a child born during their relationship, but for unwed couples, no father is legally named until a paternity action is complete. This makes sense for a number of reasons. First, unmarried couples may want paternity testing to make sure parenting responsibilities are fulfilled as appropriate. It’s insurance, but it’s also assurance.
For married couples, though, seeking paternity testing for a child born during the course of the marriage is often seen as an affront – to the marriage and the child. It’s also true that false paternity is much less common than the media makes it seem. Since the odds are that the child is biologically related to the legal father, hospitals don’t require paternity testing and many men wait until a divorce to avoid disrupting their marriage.
If you ask around, even among scientists, you’ll often hear estimates of false paternity of around 10% and sometimes as high as 30%. Researchers who specialize in the field, however, suggest that the number is more like 1-5%, with some studies placing the upper boundary as low as 3.7%. In other words, men who are raising a child are most likely the father.
As for that small percentage who aren’t the biological fathers of their children, responses vary. Many consider the years they spent raising said children to be the only thing that matters. They’ve created an emotional bond and, as if they had adopted the child knowingly; they are the father because they choose to be and nothing will change that. Some even pursue legal guardianship to secure the relationship.
Of course, not all men who discover they aren’t the biological fathers of the children they’ve been raising respond so graciously. Plenty attempt to sever the relationship, particularly if there’s child support involved. And this is when things get complicated.
Challenging Child Support
Is it possible to challenge child support upon finding out you’re not the biological father? You can certainly try, but you won’t always be successful. In fact, your individual outcome may depend on what judge you stand before, even in the same jurisdiction.
One reason that child support challenges are so controversial is that it’s often unknowing. And even if it was perpetrated intentionally in what is known as paternity fraud, canceling a child support order hurts an innocent party: the child.
As Laura Morgan of the American Bar Association Child Support Committee explains, the emphasis on paternity fraud “elevat[es] the primacy of DNA over human relations.” It’s for this reason that many legal professionals express greater support for paternity fraud laws that are restricted to the first two years after a child’s birth.
The prior relationship between father and child is one of the main reasons courts resist canceling child support. Family courts are what are known as “courts of equity” and their sole interest is establishing the best interests of the child. If you and your former spouse can locate and prove that another individual is the biological father, then they are likely to mandate child support payments from him instead. However, if no biological father can be produced, the responsibility may remain with you.
Child Support Matters
The fact is that child support goes towards a number of vital expenses that make a material difference in a child’s life, things that they might otherwise be deprived of without the second parent’s financial contribution.
For example, child support may be used for school supplies, clothing, medical care, or extracurricular activities. It might be used for rent or a mortgage, toys and books, or summer camp. While some of the things purchased using child support may seem like “extras,” they may also make the difference between a child who can follow their passion for music or spend time in afterschool enrichment and a child who spends time wandering the neighborhood after school getting into trouble. If you’ve already committed a portion of your life to raising this child, courts consider it your continued responsibility to remain, at minimum, financially involved because it is in the best interests of the child.
Ultimately, child support ends at age 18 barring extenuating circumstances such as a disability, so whatever the court’s decision is, it isn’t forever. So your choice is to wait it out and pay, to face the legal consequences of unpaid child support such as wage garnishment or jail time, or to continue challenging the ruling in the courts, up to the highest level permitted.
Negotiating Paternity And Child Support
If you’ve recently discovered you aren’t the biological father of a child you’ve been raising, you may have questions about your legal responsibilities. Unfortunately, there are not straightforward answers – but there is help. Contact Rowdy G. Williams Law Firm today.
At Rowdy G. Williams Law Firm, we understand the emotional and legal difficulties of family law and can help you navigate the system. From DNA testing and seeking evidence of intentional paternity fraud to determining the material need for support and seeking out the true biological father, we won’t rest in your defense. Children deserve the support of their parents – but that doesn’t mean you should be made to parent by default.
Fatherhood is bond and biology and you shouldn’t face financial consequences for offering up emotional resources to a child thrust into your life. DNA isn’t everything, but when it comes to child support decisions, it should matter.