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When you’re not the father: Challenging paternity in Maryland

What if you suspect that you aren’t the father of your partner’s child? If you were a married couple, your name would already be on the birth certificate and you’d have to go through the process of “de-establishing” your paternity.

When you’re unmarried, however, you have a few options and you should carefully consider exercising them before you make an 18-year (or longer) financial commitment to that newborn child.

Unless you are absolutely convinced that you are the biological father of the newborn child, do not sign anything acknowledging your paternity, including the child’s birth certificate. It’s significantly harder and more expensive to remove yourself as the child’s legal father than it is to challenge the fact from the start.

In addition, you need to be aware that if you get pressured into signing the birth certificate or an acknowledgement of paternity, that gets you on the hook for child support but it doesn’t grant you visitation rights. They’re two separate issues under the law. Being unmarried means that you have no automatic visitation rights, even if you accept paternity.

Here’s what you can do instead:

— Consult with a family law attorney and try to determine how much child support you likely will have to pay if you are, in fact, the child’s father.

Then take that money and put it aside in a savings account so that it can be paid out promptly if DNA testing proves that you are the baby’s father.

— Arrange for DNA testing. DNA testing is fairly inexpensive and doesn’t require any invasive procedures—a simple cheek swab from both you and the newborn is enough to determine with a fair degree of certainty whether or not you are the baby’s actual father.

— If you still have doubts, it’s worthwhile to repeat the tests. Lab errors do happen. If you’re really convinced that the baby isn’t your child, it’s worth the extra time and expense to have the test repeated.

If you are the child’s father, you can then go about establishing your obligation for child support and asking for visitation rights so that you can get to know your child. If you aren’t, the mother (and state) is now free to go after the actual father to fulfill his obligations.

Source: FindLaw, “Challenging Paternity,” accessed Dec. 30, 2016

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