Misattributed paternity is devastating for men who have spent years believing they are biologically tied to a child, only to later learn that they share no DNA. Also known as paternity fraud, victims of misattributed paternity often wonder, "Can I be reimbursed for child support I paid?" Let's explore more about this phenomenon: what it is, how it happens, and what victims of paternity fraud can do.
What is Paternity Fraud?
Paternity fraud occurs when a mother misidentifies a man as the biological father of her child. In some cases, the mother knows full well that the man is not biologically linked to the child; in other cases, she only suspects that her child is not genetically linked to the father she named on the birth certificate.
How Does Paternity Fraud Happen?
Paternity fraud generally happens when a man is asked to sign an affidavit of paternity for a child with whom he shares no biological connection. Presumably, in such cases, it is the mother who is urging the man to sign the affidavit or birth certificate form. The issue is then complicated when the state uses that affidavit or birth certificate as proof of paternity in a child support case, instead of ordering an actual DNA test before assigning child support.
In some states, paternity fraud also happens through a process known as "the presumption of paternity." This happens when a man is designated by the state as the child's biological father simply because he and the mother were married at the time of the child's birth or conception.
An actual law in some states, the presumption of paternity causes some men to pay child support on behalf of children they are not related to—in some cases, even long after the misattributed paternity is apparent.
Paternity Fraud Revealed
Paternity fraud often goes undetected for years. Sometimes it comes to light after medical records reveal that the child cannot possibly be related to the man attributed as the biological father.
In cases where paternity fraud has resulted in child support payments, the court is left to decide whether those payments should continue. While it seems, on the surface, that the obvious answer is "no," the court's focus is always on the best interests of the child. As such, they may:
- Cease further child support payments, or
- Order a continuation of child support payments
Continuing Child Support in Paternity Fraud Cases
A court may order a father who is not the biological parent of a child to continue child support payments because:
- The father has supported the child for a period of time and has acted as the child's father, and/or
- The child still needs to be supported—and the court believes the child may require government assistance if child support payments cease, and/or
- Continued child support payments serve the best interests of the child
Help for Victims of Paternity Fraud
Fathers who are victims of paternity fraud should attempt to seek action in civil court to collect child support funds back from the child's mother. However, reimbursement is generally considered a long shot.
Consequences for a Parent Accused of Paternity Fraud
Unfortunately, there are no consequences for mothers who commit paternity fraud.
Paternity fraud is not considered a punishable crime, and it's extremely difficult to collect or recollect funds from a mother who is accused of paternity fraud.
Any parent who suspects that his co-parent has committed paternity fraud should seek a DNA test immediately. Parents looking for more information about child support should refer to the specific child support guidelines for their state. Most importantly, parents should speak with a qualified attorney experienced in resolving paternity fraud and obtaining reimbursement for past child support.
Edited by Jennifer Wolf.