What Is Paternity Fraud?
Paternity cases are common in the California family court system. It’s vital for parents to accurately establish a child’s paternity when resolving child custody disputes and determining child support obligations. Unfortunately, many men are victims of misattributed paternity throughout the US, sometimes spending years believing they are a child’s biological parent only to later discover this is not the case. Conversely, some men have no idea they have fathered children only to suddenly discover they are, in fact, fathers. Some of these situations arise from honest mistakes, but deliberate paternity fraud is more common than many people expect.
Deliberate paternity fraud occurs when a child’s mother knowingly lies about her child’s biological father. These situations may arise due to infidelity if the mother does not want her partner to discover that she was unfaithful. They may also arise for financial reasons; a mother may want one partner to be the presumptive father because he can provide more child support than the child’s actual biological father.
Unfortunately, paternity fraud is not a specifically listed punishable crime in California. Holding a mother accountable for knowingly lying about her child’s paternity is very difficult. While not impossible, it is best for men to proactively protect themselves from paternity fraud by accurately establishing paternity before accepting legal responsibility as the child’s father.
What Is Presumptive Paternity?
A child’s “presumptive” father is the man assumed to be the child’s biological father. When a married woman gives birth to a child, the presumptive father is the mother’s husband. However, when an unmarried woman has a baby, she will typically urge the alleged father to sign an affidavit of paternity to assume legal responsibility as the father of the child. While a married father may have trouble accepting the possibility that his wife has been unfaithful, both married fathers and unmarried fathers must understand the importance of accurately establishing paternity before accepting legal responsibility for a child.
If an alleged father accepts responsibility for a child, he may have little legal recourse if he later discovers that he is not the child’s father. The court may rule that he is still legally responsible for child support because he willingly accepted parental responsibility. A paternity test immediately after the child’s birth can nullify this possibility. If you are an alleged father of a child but have any reason to doubt you are the child’s father, it is vital to consult an attorney to determine the best way to secure an accurate paternity test.
Potential Outcomes of Paternity Fraud?
Paternity fraud cases are challenging and stressful for everyone involved. The shock of discovering that your alleged child’s mother knowingly lied about paternity can be difficult to accept. Additionally, the law can seem unbalanced in this situation as it may seem as though the mother can get away with this behavior without any penalty. However, every paternity fraud case is unique, and the victim is not entirely without legal recourse. If you can prove that the child’s mother knowingly and intentionally lied about paternity, it is possible to recover compensation for any child support you may have paid thus far. However, if you are in a relationship with the child’s mother or the two of you are married, the situation can be much more complicated.
There have been cases of paternity fraud that have led to presumptive fathers being held responsible for child support even after paternity fraud is exposed. The family court system has a legal duty to always rule in favor of the best interests of the children their rulings will affect. If a presumptive father has held himself out to be the father of a child, actively been a part of the child’s life, and contributed to raising the child financially, the court may require him to continue to do so until the child’s biological father can be identified and held responsible for his paternal obligations.
Recovering past child support payments after discovering paternity fraud can be very difficult. Some men have successfully recovered child support wrongfully paid after revealing paternity fraud, but this is rare. It is possible to hold a mother accountable for back child support if she knowingly and intentionally defrauded the victim, but the child’s actual biological father is likely to be held accountable for child support once he is identified.
What Should I Do If I Suspect Paternity Fraud?
Paternity fraud can not only be damaging to the alleged father, both financially and emotionally, but it can also be potentially harmful to the child. Specifically, if a child’s biological father has any known medical conditions that may have passed to the child, it is vital for the child’s caregivers to know this information so they can inform medical providers. In addition, if the child’s mother knowingly conceals her child’s paternity, this could prevent the child from receiving appropriate medical care, potentially leading to tragic consequences.
If you suspect paternity fraud, or if you are unsure whether you should accept paternity for your spouse’s child if you suspect infidelity, it is vital to consult an experienced attorney as soon as possible. Your attorney can potentially help you secure a court-ordered paternity test that will accurately establish paternity. In addition, if you already have a child custody order and discover that you are not the child’s biological father, your attorney can help you determine the best available resolutions to the situation, such as petitioning for modification of the order in question to reflect the newly discovered information.
Ultimately, facing the idea of paternity fraud can be an emotionally devastating experience, and it can be difficult for anyone to determine their best legal options in this challenging situation. Working with an experienced family law attorney provides reassurance during a highly challenging time. The attorneys at Bickford, Blado & Botros have years of experience representing California clients in many family-law matters, including paternity disputes. If you need legal counsel to resolve any paternity-related issues in family court, we can help. Contact us today to schedule a consultation and find out more about the legal services we offer.
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