Questions of paternity can be painful and confusing to navigate. Perhaps you’re in a long-term relationship but not married, and you need to know how to get on the birth certificate as your child’s legal father. Maybe you’re questioning the paternity of a child you’ve raised as your own. You may have just found out about the existence of a child that is very likely yours.
No matter what has led you here, we’re here to help. As you figure out your next steps, turn to the team at Hardy Pence to advocate for you. Call us at 304-407-7852 to set up a consultation now.
How to Establish Paternity
Paternity does not need to be established in every single case. If a child is conceived or born out of wedlock, during a separation, or during a divorce, you must establish paternity. However, even if you are married and the child was born during your marriage, you can seek to prove paternity.
There are several ways to go about establishing paternity in West Virginia. By following any of these accepted routes, you can be legally named as a child’s father. This enables you to seek parenting time and allows either party to establish child support. You can establish paternity by:
- You can voluntarily acknowledge that you are a child’s father by signing a Declaration of Paternity Affidavit.
- Either parent can verify paternity or determine paternity if it is in question by requesting genetic testing. The BCSE—Bureau for Child Support Enforcement—will order the genetic testing and send the results.
If you have been struggling to prove paternity because the other parent is resistant, you may wonder about your options if they refuse to submit to genetic testing or refuse to present the child for genetic testing. Once the BCSE orders genetic testing, it is a binding legal order. Should either party refuse, the BCSE can find them in contempt and go forward from there.
Paternity and Child Support
Once paternity has been established, either via the Declaration of Paternity Affidavit or genetic testing, the BCSE will set up a hearing to determine child support for the child or children in question.
In fact, child support is often the primary reason that a parent seeks to establish paternity. Potential fathers often have a lot of questions when this happens—what if they don’t want to be involved in the child’s life? Can they sign their parental rights away to avoid paying child support? What if the mother hid the child from them?
There are very, very few circumstances under which a legal father can avoid paying child support to provide for his child or children. The court will go to great lengths to ensure that the child receives the financial support they deserve, including seizing tax returns and garnishing wages. It is crucial to speak with a child support attorney if you are concerned about your obligations and your ability to pay.
Parental Rights and Custody
The good news is that establishing paternity does give the legal father substantial rights. Once he has been named as the legal father, he can request access to the child in order to build a relationship with them—barring extreme cases of abuse, substance abuse, or other scenarios that would put the child in danger.
If the child is young, visitation may depend on whether or not the child is breastfed and how long they can be away from their mother. Once they reach an appropriate age, a father can request additional parenting time.
If the child is older and the father has not been involved in their life until now, visitation may start gradually and slowly ramp up. This gives the child time to become comfortable with their father before moving to overnight visitation and even shared custody.
Take the Next Step in Your Family Law Case and Contact Hardy Pence
No matter what situation you find yourself in, we are here to support you. Set up a time to talk to the family lawyers at Hardy Pence now to talk about your legal options. Give us a call at 304-407-7852 or send us a message online.