What is a paternity case?
A paternity case is a legal proceeding brought to establish a legal father. It can be brought by the mother, father or the Department of Human Services (DHS). This case is different from a support case in that support cases already have legally established parents, paternity cases do not. Paternity cases establish legal parentage and the non-custodial parent's obligation to pay support for the child. Unlike support cases, minors can be litigants in these cases.
Where do I begin?
You must first contact a Support Specialist at the DHS Office of Child Support. (The same place for support or interstate cases). Their number is: (866) 661-0005 ext 7187. The support specialist will then send a referral to the Family Support Division of the Prosecutors Office. If you are currently receiving any type of public assistance then you are required to cooperate or you may lose some or all of your benefits. However, the receipt of public assistance benefits is not a requirement to be eligible for legal help on these matters. Anyone who has a child residing with them can be helped.
How is the case started?
The Family Support Division will contact you. We will send you a questionnaire to fill out and set up an interview. You will review and sign legal documents. The papers are then filed with the Family Court, where a case number and Judge will be assigned. Then the Defendant must be served with the paperwork. There are several ways the Defendant can be served:
- They can come into the office and pick up the papers.
- The papers can be sent by certified, restricted mail. (Only he/she can sign for them.)
- A Process Server can hand deliver the papers to him/her.
The defendant then has some options. They can request tests to determine paternity or sign an Affidavit of Parentage. If paternity tests are requested by either party, a court order is obtained requiring DNA blood or buccal swab tests. The parties and the child are required to go to the laboratory to provide tissue or blood samples. The results of these tests are highly accurate and are usually known in about 4 to 6 weeks. The results are forwarded to the parties upon receipt from the laboratory. If the test results are positive that the man is the father, then a Judgment of Filiation and Uniform Support Order (USO) is pursued. If the results are negative, then the case is dismissed.
If a man fails to appear for court ordered paternity testing, he still can be adjudged as the father of the child. Therefore, keeping the appointment for the testing is important. The $111.00 cost assessed to the man is greatly reduced compared to the cost of obtaining a test after completion of the case.
How is the case completed?
A Judgment of Filiation is granted by the Judge. Orders entered in paternity cases contain all of the provisions found in an order entered in a child support case except that they also include a finding that the man is the father of the child. The parties can agree to the provisions in an order prior to going to court, or a hearing can be scheduled before the Judge. Please feel free to contact the Family Support Division to schedule an appointment if you wish to avoid going to court. Child support is determined by using the legally required Child Support Formula. The parents respective earnings, or potential to earn, are used in this computation. Once the Order has been granted, it will be mailed to the parties and parents last known address. The Friend of the Court (FOC) will monitor and enforce the provisions of the Order.