We’ve all read the salacious gossip at the local food store news stand when popular celebrities bear children out of wedlock or famous couples battle it out in a nasty divorce and heartless allegations fly.  Even in those widely publicized cases, it can be an uncomfortable and awkward situation for any parent to question the paternity of a child.  I will admit that in my experience it is not a common occurrence for a parent to question the paternity of a child.  That’s not to say it doesn’t happen.  What happens when that question arises?

In NJ and many other states there’s a presumption that the name listed on a birth certificate is the father of a child.  There is also a presumption that a father who assumes paternity by allowing their name to be listed as the father on a birth certificate along with participating in the upbringing of the child, making financial contributions for the child and representing himself to the public as the child’s father is that child’s father, whether DNA says so or not.  These cases are factually sensitive and depend upon a number of factors for consideration, such as:

-When paternity is questioned?

-Who is questioning paternity?

-Is there another man submitting himself as the biological father of the child?

-Does the mother know who the biological father is?

These are just a few factors to consider.  Recently, the Appellate Division, in the unpublished decision of Qian v. Wang, A-1873-08T1, decided October 14, 2009 addressed this issue.

In Qian, the parties had been married for 13 years before the father questioned paternity of the parties’ only child in the midst of their divorce.  After DNA testing, there was no dispute that the child was not the biological child of the father.  The mother testified at trial that she believed the father was the biological parent of the child until the DNA tests revealed otherwise.  The trial judge found this testimony to be credible.  Also at trial, the father testified that at the child’s birth, he had suspicions about paternity but did nothing to pursue those suspicions.

The trial judge addressed the question of paternity in her 34 page written decision. Notably she stated in support of her decision that father should pay child support that 1) father failed to seek genetic testing immediately after the child’s birth despite suspicions about paternity; 2) his conduct induced mother and the child to establish permanent residency in the U.S.; 3) he had provided all of the child’s economic support since birth; 4) his conduct induced mother not to find the child’s biological father; 5) there was now no realistic possibility of finding the child’s biological father or obtaining support from him; and 6) father was now, after a decade, the child’s psychological parent.

In affirming this portion of the decision, the Appellate Court added that father should have pursued the question of paternity at the child’s birth when his suspicions arose. By waiting more than a decade, raising the child as his own, inducing mother and the child to become economically dependent on him and becoming the child’s psychological parent- there was no basis to terminate his child support obligation. Because of the length of time that passed since the issue of paternity was raised, there was no realistic possibility that mother could find the child’s biological father (who was believed to live in China) and/or obtain economic support from him.

Public policy of our state seeks to protect children. In furthering that policy, the state seeks to ensure that no child is left without a parent. One of the ways it does this is by making it difficult for a parent who has assumed the role of father in his actions (both financial, emotional and psychological) to financially abandon a child based upon DNA when that role has been assumed. If the question arises, be sure to address it sooner rather than later.