Even in the age of DNA testing, the issue of paternity is not always straightforward. Legally being the father of a child can sometimes be different than biologically being the father of a child. A legal father has to pay child support, and it also provides him with the right, but not obligation, of a relationship with that child. A biological father has those same obligations and rights unless another man is legal father of the child.
The reason for this discrepancy is deeply rooted in history, long before DNA testing was possible. New York State does not want to render a child fatherless, or in archaic terms “illegitimate,” unless another man’s paternity can be proven.
If a child is born outside of a marriage, paternity can be legally established by the signing of an acknowledgment of paternity. This is often signed right after the birth. However, if that man comes to doubt whether he is the father, he has a very tight time frame to ask a Court to vacate his acknowledgment or ask for a DNA test. After the deadline has passed, the father can still be obligated to pay child support even if it could be proven by a DNA test that he is not the father.
For non-married couples, a birth certificate is not enough to establish paternity without also having an acknowledgment. If the would-be father will not sign an acknowledgment, a court proceeding can be filed to compel a DNA test. Or, if a mother will not allow the would-be father access to the child, a father can also seek a court order declaring him the legal father.
For married couples, a child born during the marriage is presumed to be the husband’s. Only under certain very limited circumstances can this presumption be overcome.
Whether the parties are married or not, the longer the child has a relationship with a father figure, and knows only that person to be the father, the less likely the Court will disturb that relationship, even if a DNA test would prove otherwise.
If you have questions about paternity, you should consult with a Family Law attorney who is knowledgeable about your options, sooner rather than later as time delay can have a substantial effect on the options available to you.