In parentage cases, also called paternity cases, the court issues orders that say who the child’s legal parents are. If you are targeted by a paternity suit, you may be wondering what your options are. If you are served with a Petition to Establish Parental Relationship by the other parent, you have 30 days to respond. It is very important to respond, because after 30 days, the court may grant the petition and legally find that you are the child’s father without a paternity test.
If paternity is established, you will expected to provide monetary child support until the child is emancipated. In California, emancipation occurs when the child is 18 and graduates high school, but could continue until the child is 19, if they are unmarried and attending high school full-time.
If parents are married when a child is born, there is usually no question of parentage. The law assumes that the husband is the father and the wife is the mother, so paternity is assumed. However, if there is a question as to paternity, the assumption can be overturned.
Paternity can often be determined by highly accurate tests conducted on blood or tissue samples from the alleged father, mother, and child. Typically, such DNA tests are between 90% and 99% accurate. Originally in the 1950s, paternity was determined by comparing blood types of the tested parties. However, blood typing is not a completely accurate method of determining paternity. In the 1970s, a new test was developed using white blood cell antigens, which is able to exclude about 95% of falsely accused fathers.
With DNA testing, the genetic characteristics of the child are compared to those of the mother, and those characteristics that cannot be found in the mother must have been inherited from the father. Each individual’s DNA is unique, except in the case of identical multiples, like twins. DNA testing is the most accurate form of paternity testing. If the DNA patterns between the child and alleged father do not match on two or more DNA probes, then the alleged father can be ruled out. Generally, DNA testing is done through a blood sample or using a swab that was rubbed against the inside of the subject’s cheek. Children can be tested at any age, and the tests can even be run on an umbilical cord blood specimen at birth.
In California, if you do not wish to accept the results of the paternity test, you have the right to ask for another. However, you may have to pay for the second paternity test. Even with the proven accuracy of DNA testing, it is possible, although unlikely, that the results are inaccurate. DNA testing can be challenged for: tainted lab results, fraudulent lab results, proof of infertility or sterility, or proof that the tests were tampered with.