Challenging Paternity in New York State: What You Need to Know

Every child has a biological father, but, in the state of New York, a child born to an unmarried mother has no legal father. Unmarried parents must establish paternity (a legal term for fatherhood) in one of two ways:

1. By signing a form acknowledging paternity
2. By petitioning a court to determine paternity

Even if you signed an acknowledgment of paternity form at the time your child was born, there are things you can do to challenge paternity if you believe you may not actually be the child’s biological father. A paternity attorney may be able to help. Read on to learn more.

What Legal Paternity Means for Fathers

Father Holding Their Child

Legal paternity means your name will appear on the child’s birth certificate and you are responsible for providing the child with certain benefits, including:

• Financial support (child support, social security, veterans benefits, and inheritance rights)
• Your name on the birth certificate
• Medical or life insurance (from either parent if available)
• Access to information about your genetic and family history so the child can learn of any inheritable medical problems

If you’re deemed the legal father of a child, you also have certain responsibilities to the mother of the child, including shared parental responsibility and financial support.

Who Can Petition for Paternity?

The state of New York allows the following individuals to petition the court to determine paternity:

• The mother
• The person alleging to be the father
• The child
• The child’s guardian, next of kin, or another person acting in a parental role
• A representative of a public welfare agency
• A representative of a charitable or philanthropic organization

Determining Paternity: Then and Now

Before DNA testing became available, the only way to determine paternity was with blood type. Although blood testing has become more sophisticated over time, it is not a perfect science and has limitations for accurately determining paternity.

Today, DNA tests can determine whether a man is a child’s father with almost 100% accuracy. All it takes is a simple swab of the cheek.

While DNA testing kits are available over the counter in many pharmacies, New York state requires DNA tests to be ordered by a court or medical professional to establish legal paternity.

Grounds for Challenging Paternity

Paternity DNA Lab Test Results

Medical tests to determine paternity are usually accurate, but not always. The situations below are grounds for challenging paternity:

• Tainted lab results (evidence of errors in lab results or a lab that has a history of substandard practices)
• Proof of infertility or sterility
• Proof that test results were tampered with
• Proof of the mother’s infidelity during the marriage (when an opposite-sex couple is married, the man is presumed to be the father unless otherwise proven)

How to Challenge Paternity

Section 516-a of New York’s Family Court Act allows a person to rescind an acknowledgment of paternity within 60 days of the date the acknowledgment became effective, or within 60 days of an administrative or judicial proceeding relating to the child.

If you signed an acknowledgment of paternity more than 60 days ago, you still may be able to challenge it if any of the following apply:

New facts: New information has come to light indicating you may not be the father.
Duress: You signed the acknowledgment of paternity under duress (e.g., threats of violence).
Fraud: There is evidence of fraud.

The first step is usually to file a complaint with the court. The court may then order tests, including blood and DNA tests for you and the child. They may also seek evidence, such as medical documents, to determine paternity.

Once the court has reviewed all the evidence, it will issue an order naming the legal father. The parents must then work out issues around child support and custody.

What About Same-Sex Couples?

In same-sex parenting situations where the parents were not married when the mother became pregnant or when the child was born, it’s important to establish parentage.

In New York, it used to be that if a same-sex couple separated, a non-biological parent had no legal rights of parentage after the breakup.

This changed in 2016 when the New York State Court of Appeals ruled that the same-sex partner of a child’s biological parent should be legally recognized as a parent, even in cases where the couple was not married and the non-biological parent did not adopt the child.

This decision overturned a 25-year precedent that previously left same-sex parents with no recourse to visit or gain custody of their child after a breakup.

Get Help Legally Challenging Paternity

Father Holding Child's Hand

The stakes are high. If you’re established as a legal parent of a child, by law you must financially support the child.

The laws on paternity and parentage can be complicated. Considering the enormous amount of responsibility that comes with being a legal parent, you deserve a fair process to determine paternity. A skilled paternity attorney can help you understand whether you have a case to challenge paternity and help you resolve child custody issues.

The law offices of Joseph A. Ledwidge PC have a track record of success helping clients challenge paternity and resolve joint custody and child support issues. We start by listening, and then we develop a legal strategy to fully meet your needs.

Whether you need a child support lawyer, child custody lawyer, or just an experienced family attorney in Queens, Manhattan, and throughout NYC, schedule a free phone consultation at 718-276-6656 today.

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