Establishing paternity is a critical step towards collecting child support. Many paternity disputes commonly concern the father’s responsibility to pay child support. A father’s refusal to sign a paternity statement does not exempt him from paying support. When a man does not voluntarily sign a paternity statement, the state goes to court to establish his paternity and collect child support.
However, answering the seemingly simple question, “Who is the father?” is not as straightforward as it seems because circumstances give rise to different legal rules.
When paternity is agreed on or presumed, the acknowledged father is a biological father of a child born to unmarried parents, for whom paternity has been established by either the admission of the father or the agreement of the parents. An acknowledged father must pay child support.
Unless he or the mother proves otherwise to a court, a man may be the presumed father when he:
- was married to the mother when the child was conceived or born, although some states do not consider a man to be a presumed father if the couple has separated;
- attempted to marry the mother (even if the marriage was not valid) and the child was conceived or born during the attempted marriage;
- married the mother after the birth and agreed either to have his name on the birth certificate or to support the child;
- welcomed the child into his home and openly held the child out as his own.
A presumed father must pay child support.
The spouse who is not a legal parent (biological or adoptive) may be granted custody or visitation under the notion of equitable parent when a spouse and child have a close relationship and consider themselves parent and child or where the biological parent encouraged this relationship. If the court grants an equitable parent custody or visitation, then the parent will also be required to pay child support. Equitable parenthood often happens when same-sex couples are parenting together.
An unmarried man who impregnates a woman is often referred to as an alleged father, or sometimes simply as an unwed father. An alleged or unwed father pays child support if a court determines, or he acknowledges, that he is the father; in addition, an alleged or unwed father has the right to visitation with his child and may seek custody.
A stepfather is the spouse of a legal mother and is not also the biological father of the woman’s children. A stepfather is not obligated to support the children of the woman to whom he is married unless he legally adopts the children.