A paternity suit is intended to determine the father of a
child whose parents were not married when the child was born.
Paternity is the legal determination of fatherhood that must be
established before a court can order child support. Paternity also
gives the child many rights, including
child support, access to
medical records, government benefits and more.
A woman can start the paperwork to establish paternity when she
is still pregnant. If the father accepts paternity then a
Declaration of Paternity can be filed with the local child support
agency. If the person denies paternity, a genetic or paternity
test can be ordered after the baby is born.
When there is a dispute over who the father of a child is, it
may be necessary to bring a paternity suit to bring clarity and
ensure the child’s interests are protected. Most states,
including North Carolina, require that paternity be established by
a “preponderance of the evidence,” meaning that paternity (or
lack of paternity) is "more likely than not." This test
is the same test used in other civil matters, such as negligence,
contract law and malpractice. This is the 50.01 percent test,
meaning that if evidence is even slightly greater than 50-50, it
constitutes a "preponderance of evidence."
However, many states insist on a higher standard, known as the
"clear and convincing evidence" test. This test is more
stringent (harder to overcome) than the "preponderance"
test, but not as strict as the "beyond a reasonable
doubt" test, the standard in a criminal case. Under North
Carolina law, oral acknowledgement of paternity may be sufficient
to meet the state's "clear, cogent, and convincing"
evidentiary standard for establishing a parent relationship for a
child born out of wedlock. The establishment of such a
relationship, however, does not legitimate the child nor give the
child retroactive inheritance rights. A paternity test is a DNA
test that determines whether a man could be the biological father
of a child. We all inherit our DNA (the genetic material) from our
biological parents. A paternity test compares a child’s DNA
pattern with that of the alleged father to check for evidence of
this inheritance which is the most definitive proof of a
Whatever the burden of proof on a person asserting or denying
paternity, recent developments in DNA testing may make these
distinctions irrelevant. With proper testing, most cases are
decided on scientific evidence that is almost 100 percent
accurate. Science has effectively removed paternity cases from
usual rules of litigation and proof. Now courts and legislatures
talk about 97 percent or 99 percent certainties instead of terms
like "preponderance of the evidence."
The result of a paternity test is either an exclusion (the
alleged father is not the biological father), or an inclusion (the
alleged father is considered the biological father). Once
paternity has been established a paternity suit can be filed to
address issues of custody, financial support, visitations and
similar rights and obligations normally handled in divorce suits.
Both parties in a paternity suit will require the assistance of
a qualified attorney in order to protect their interests in these
proceedings, particularly if there are disagreements about the
crucial issues of child support, custody, and visitation. An
attorney can represent the parties in court and also provide
general information about the precedents in family law which may
come into play during the proceedings. A lawyer can also be useful
in assisting the parties with any subsequent issues that may arise
even after the formal paternity suit has been resolved.
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