Summary in Divorce
Most paternity issues seem novel to the parties involved, but they are actually settled law.
Usually biological, paternity can be imposed by a court on a man who has no biological ties to the child when a man has presented himself to the world as the father of a child. Unlike maternity, which is never in uncertain, paternity is often disputed for obvious reasons. The question of paternity may give rise to a paternity suit, which is a legal action to determine whether a man is the father of a child born out of wedlock. The purpose of this action is to enforce support obligations. Courts hold men to a strict liability for a child that results from their sperm. A man cannot claim that he is but a contractor if he impregnates a woman at her request and then argue that he is without a responsibility to support the child. Nor can the woman who becomes pregnant in this arrangement waive child support. Courts have ruled that, outside of the jurisdiction’s statute on artificial insemination, a man cannot waive his parental rights (or the responsibility of child support), nor can a mother. To do so goes against public policy. A woman’s fraudulent claims or deceit about birth control (or infertility) do not shield a man from support obligations in the event of pregnancy. Moreover, a woman may unilaterally refuse an abortion. Questions about paternity happen frequently when the parties make misrepresentations to one another, and these misrepresentations create court actions based on the doctrine of paternity estoppel. Under paternity estoppel, a man cannot present himself to the world as the father of a child, and then change his mind later if he discovers that he is not the biological father of the child. Paternity estoppel also prevents a mother whose romantic involvements may have changed from denying the paternity of a man she formerly named as the father of her child. Technological advances such as DNA testing have made paternity a question of science, not law. These advances have undermined Lord Mansfield’s Rule, which render inadmissible the testimony of either spouse as to whether a husband had access to his wife at the time of conception. In some jurisdictions, Lord Mansfield’s rule has been abandoned. The determination of the court or voluntary acknowledgment, usually by a signed declaration of paternity, that the man is the father of the child is called paternity establishment.
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