It's a common scenario -- a man and a woman share a fun evening together, drinking and dancing, and part ways in the morning. A few months (or even years) later, the man may be surprised when he receives a court document alleging that he is the father of the woman's child. However, this scenario can take a bizarre twist when a man receives this same court document from a woman he's never met (let alone impregnated). What should you do if you find yourself facing paternity allegations from someone with whom you've never been intimate? Read on to learn more about how to handle this unusual situation.
How is paternity determined?
The paternity of a child can be determined in a number of ways. In most states, a child born to a married couple is automatically deemed a "product of the marriage," and the husband is legally the child's father (even if the child was conceived during an affair). If the parents of the child are in a long-term relationship, but not married, the mother may be able to put the father's name on the child's birth certificate while still at the hospital after delivery.
However, if the parents of the child are not in a relationship -- or can't agree on the paternity of the child -- determining paternity may require the filing of a court case. Generally the mother will file a petition to determine paternity and child support and list the putative father as the defendant. The father may request a paternity test, and if this test establishes paternity, the court can assess child support and determine whether the father should have visitation.
How can you fight back against paternity allegations?
The obvious answer to defending yourself against a paternity action when you've never even met the child's mother is to insist on an immediate paternity test. How better to clear your name? However, the actual process involved in establishing paternity can often be a bit more complicated than this.
In some jurisdictions, temporary child support may be assessed while a paternity action is pending -- even before the court orders you to take a paternity test. You'll want to avoid this scenario, since even if this temporary support is reversed after the paternity test shows you are not the father, if the mother has already spent these funds you may have a difficult time recovering them.
You might also be required to pay for your own paternity test. Although at-home test kits are available for a fairly low price, the court may not accept these results as truly accurate, and can require a more sophisticated test -- weighing in at $150 to $1000 or more. If you can't immediately afford one of these tests, you should investigate other funding options (including refinancing, taking out a personal loan, or borrowing from friends or family members) to avoid being assessed temporary support until paternity can be determined.
Finally, don't completely discount the possibility of a positive paternity result until you actually have the paperwork back from the lab. Although exceedingly rare, there have been some isolated incidents in which women actually steal seminal fluid from unsuspecting men and use this fluid to impregnate themselves. And if you've ever served as a sperm donor, there may be the small chance that one of the women who purchased your sperm will try to seek child support (even if you signed documents waiving any parental rights).
Don't make any big decisions or commit yourself to anything until you receive the paternity results you need in order to move forward with the help of a family law attorney.