What happens when a father learns that the child he has raised and loved for years is not his biological daughter? The answer to that question, of course, depends on the father in each case and also on the laws of the state in which he resides.
One father in Pennsylvania, Mike, found out the girl he had raised and loved for years was not “his.” Mike said the revelation was “devastating”, and he left his wife, but he did not renounce his daughter. For him, he still felt the child, in all ways that mattered, was still his daughter. He paid his child support faithfully, and his daughter still spends every other weekend with him.
Mike has, however, filed suit to end his paternal rights, even though it may cost him visitation rights with his daughter. When he learned his ex-wife was to marry the man who was his daughter’s biological father, the thought of supporting another man’s child became unbearable. Two years after filing suit, Mike is still paying child support to a biologically intact family, which in his opinion is ridiculous.
Mike is not the only father trying to end the paternal rights of a child who is not his. As a result of political, social and technological shifts, more of these cases are playing out in court, and stricter federal rules are forcing states to chase down the biological fathers and hold them responsible for children born outside of marriage. The DNA tests that prove paternity have become easier, less expensive and more reliable. Now all a father who questions the paternity of a child has to do, is to swab the inside of a cheek for cells and pay a couple of hundred dollars to have his question answered.
In most states, paternity decisions are governed by age-old English common law, that a child born in a marriage is presumed the product of that union unless the husband was impotent, sterile or beyond “the four seas.” Judges today have interpreted that law in so many different ways that what happens in contested paternity cases depends almost as much on the state as on the details of the case.
In Florida, there are five ways to establish paternity:
- Marriage: The parents are married to each other when the child is born
- Acknowledgment of Paternity: The unmarried couple signs a legal document in the hospital when the child is born, or later
- Administrative Order Based on Genetic Testing: Paternity is ordered if a genetic test prove fatherhood
- Court Order: A judge orders a paternity in court
- Legitimation: The mother and natural father get married to each other after the child is born and update the birth record through the Florida Office of Vital Statistics
Although a man can prove he is not the biological father of the child born during the marriage with his wife, it will be up to a judge to decide whether or not he can sever his paternal rights and cease paying for the support of the child.