Paternity Fraud

Paternity fraud is an issue that affects countless families across the United States. Studies reported by the New York Times show that as many as 30 percent of dads paying child support are doing so for children who are not theirs. Stricter federal laws have pressed states to track down fathers and hold them responsible for supporting children who are born outside of marriage. When a party commits paternity fraud, this can have devastating effects for the men, women and children involved.

Proving Paternity Fraud—What is it?

Generally, the legal requirements of fraud are that the person committing the fraud:

  • Made an false statement
  • Knew the statement was false
  • Intended to deceive the victim

In addition, the victim must have:

  • Reasonably relied on the false statement
    • This means that the false statement must have substantially influenced the victim’s chosen course of action. In a paternity fraud case, as discussed below, the most commonly seen example of this is a man being influenced into paying child support payments for someone who is not his biological child.

  • Suffered some sort of injury as a result. In paternal fraud cases, the injury felt can have a very real and lasting impact on a person’s life—and the lives of their loved ones.

The classic example of paternity fraud is when a woman attempts to name someone as her child’s father who she knows is not the child’s biological father.

Effects of Paternity Fraud

Paternity fraud can create devastating effects for the actual biological father and the father who is fraudulently named. The most common result is a man being held liable for massive child support payments for a child who is not his. This situation can have an overwhelming impact on the life of the man who is not the father and his loved ones. Failure to pay child support is a federal crime that can carry up to two years in prison and prohibitively expensive fines and can lead to garnishment of wages, seizure of personal property, loss of driver’s license and worsened credit. Paternal fraud can also deny paternal rights to the biological father who was not named.

Preventing Paternity Fraud: Request the Test!

There are several different stages at which you can contest paternity and request a DNA test. Paternity testing can be done via certain non-invasive procedures at no risk to the child in most cases during pregnancy, but paternity does not become a ripe legal issue until the child is born. When this occurs there are numerous situations in which a person being victimized by paternity fraud could find themselves, the most common of which are discussed below.

  • If neither you nor the mother is married (to each other or anyone else): County health departments, birthing hospitals and the North Carolina Vital Records office all provide individuals the opportunity to declare voluntarily declare paternity in an Affiant of Parentage. It is within a person’s rights to request DNA testing before voluntarily signing the affiant in North Carolina. The Affiant of Parentage is considered final once signed, unless it is retracted within 60 days. This is the point where DNA testing should occur if it has not already! After that 60 days, paternity can only be challenged in court if you allege fraud, mistake, duress, or neglect.

    • Even if paternity is later challenged on the basis of fraud, a judge can still rule someone who is proven to not be the biological parent through DNA testing, as legally responsible for the child. Judges in North Carolina are supposed to primarily consider the best interests of the child in child custody and support determinations. Courts can be unwilling to weigh the interests of a non-biological father raising a child as his own over those of the child. This is why early DNA testing and having a good family law attorney to represent your interests are so important.

  • If the mother is married to someone who is not the child’s biological father: North Carolina law requires that a mother’s husband be listed as the father on the child’s birth certificate. Even if the biological father voluntarily signs the Affiant of Parentage, this does not establish his paternity in this circumstance. A hearing will be held and the judge, after considering the evidence, will rule on paternity.

If you are contesting or want to establish paternity, it is important to have the help of a qualified family law attorney to represent your interests. Please contact Arnold & Smith, PLLC today to schedule a consultation with one of our Board-Certified Family Law Practice attorneys. Family law issues involving paternity are very time sensitive and if a party on either side sits on their rights they can lose them.