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Let's say, for instance, you as a man were to be sued for child support. You then went to city hall to see if you have been declared as a father on any child's birth certificate. The government official then provides you with a legal document that you are not legally any child's father.

If you were to go to the child support hearing with this document and tell the Judge that as long as the law of non-contradiction holds in this courtroom either the document you got from the government is lying or this woman is lying. The judge must tell me who is telling the truth, the government or this woman. Two contradictions cannot both be true at the same time.

What do you think would happen in this hypothetical?

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  • 6
    The judge would stifle his laughter and encourage unrepresented parties to hire a lawyer.
    – bdb484
    Jun 12 at 18:07
  • 3
    This question contains significant misunderstandings about how birth certificates and legal paternity work. Jun 12 at 21:01
  • @DavidSiegel Well then it is a good thing I asked then. Stack Exchange exists to help people alleviate their misunderstandings about things
    – Neil Meyer
    Jun 13 at 8:21
  • I'm saddened that a mere lack of understanding is getting this question downvoted. Not understanding how things work is not by itself a reason for downvoting.
    – Neil Meyer
    Jun 13 at 8:22
  • Where? The process is different in different places.
    – ohwilleke
    Jun 13 at 19:19

4 Answers 4

6

There are a couple of flaws in your hypothetical. Nobody, certainly not the state, represents the birth records as inerrant or complete. Birth records frequently have to be corrected. In fact the point of many paternity suits is to correct the official birth record. Sometimes the father, or even the mother will be listed as "unknown" on the birth record, so the absence of a birth record naming a person as a father is not dispositive. No government official would ever issue a legal document declaring that the man is not any child's legal father because the records don't establish that. At best they could issue a document stating that the man was not the father of record for any child in the state.

Anyway, the exercise would be pointless. The only birth record the court would be interested in would be that for the child before them. None of the other birth records would be relevant to the case at hand.

The court in a paternity case would ask for evidence, such as birth certificates, or statements acknowledging paternity. If the two parties continued to dispute paternity, the court would order a paternity test. Older blood typing tests sometimes left paternity ambiguous, but modern DNA paternity testing is can achieve 99.99% certainty, baring fraud or laboratory error.

5

A government official cannot provide a legal document that you are not legally any child's father, at best they can provide a document that does not state that you are the father, or that states that someone else is the father. What next happens depends on the laws of that state (or country): I randomly pick Texas. In the lawsuit you are identified as the "Presumed father", which

means a man who, by operation of law under Section 160.204, is recognized as the father of a child until that status is rebutted or confirmed in a judicial proceeding.

That then means

(1) he is married to the mother of the child and the child is born during the marriage;

(2) he is married to the mother of the child and the child is born before the 301st day after the date the marriage is terminated by death, annulment, declaration of invalidity, or divorce;

(3) he married the mother of the child before the birth of the child in apparent compliance with law, even if the attempted marriage is or could be declared invalid, and the child is born during the invalid marriage or before the 301st day after the date the marriage is terminated by death, annulment, declaration of invalidity, or divorce;

and also

(4) he married the mother of the child after the birth of the child in apparent compliance with law, regardless of whether the marriage is or could be declared invalid, he voluntarily asserted his paternity of the child, and:

(A) the assertion is in a record filed with the vital statistics unit;

(B) he is voluntarily named as the child's father on the child's birth certificate; or

(C) he promised in a record to support the child as his own; or

(5) during the first two years of the child's life, he continuously resided in the household in which the child resided and he represented to others that the child was his own.

As you can see, listing yourself on a birth certificate is only one of a number of ways of becoming a presumed father. Then furthermore

(b) A presumption of paternity established under this section may be rebutted only by:

(1) an adjudication under Subchapter G; or

(2) the filing of a valid denial of paternity by a presumed father in conjunction with the filing by another person of a valid acknowledgment of paternity as provided by Section 160.305.

Let us assume that nobody else steps up and claims paternity, then you may be looking at a hearing to determine paternity.

The first step in resolving the issue is determining whether you are the presumed father. If you were not married to the mother, did not live with them, and you did not volunteer as father w.r.t. filling out the birth certificate, you are not the presumed father (you are not necessarily off the hook, you're just on a different hook). This could involve court-ordered genetic testing (under Subchapter G).

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  • Do I get this right: If a man marries a woman, or a bigamist pretends to marry a woman, that has the same result as far as parenthood is concerned?
    – gnasher729
    Jun 12 at 21:52
  • I dunno if there is any Texas case law on this: interesting question, still.
    – user6726
    Jun 12 at 22:08
  • @gnasher729 Yes, which makes sense, because a lot of bigamy cases are "technical" (e.g. due to a good faith belief that a divorce was granted or that a missing spouse was declared dead, when the legal proceedings were actually conducted without all proper legal formalities being completed).
    – ohwilleke
    Jun 13 at 21:41
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Birth certificates and other vital statistics records do not conclusively establish legal paternity, much less genetic paternity.

A person bring an action for child support must, in most jurisdictions, establish legal paternity. This can be done either in a previous action, or (in some jurisdictions) as part of the same suit.

A birth certificate for the child in question may be of some value as evidence, but it is generally far from conclusive.

Proof that an alleged father was married to the mother at the time of birth or at the probable time of conception may establish a presumption of fatherhood. But if the mother alleges that the records are wrong or incomplete, and alleges that a certain person is in fact the genetic father, the matter will usually be settled by a paternity test, provided that suit was brought in a timely way. (In many jurisdictions such suits can only be brought within a limited time after the birth of the child. The time allowed varies widely, but is usually at least two years, and often longer.)

1

Let's say, for instance, you as a man were to be sued for child support.

Generally speaking, the cause of action is to establish paternity, which can be brought by a variety of parties, and child support merely follows from the existence of paternity. Often a possible father of a married woman does not have standing to contest her husband's presumed paternity and only the husband, the mother, or a representative of the child can bring the action.

What would be the outcome?

The question deeply misunderstands what a birth certificate means in the context of a paternity case.

Most U.S. states have paternity laws that are structured such that paternity is presumed under certain circumstances. Being named as a father on a birth certificate is one such presumption (and whether it is rebuttable or not depends in part, in most jurisdictions, upon whether the father named consented to be named on the birth certificate). See, e.g., this Law.SE question (analyzing California law and linking to answers under New York State and Minnesota law), this Law.SE question (further examining California law and DNA testing) and this Law.SE question (addressing related matters regarding non-marital child bearing).

Some of those circumstances can be rebutted with contrary evidence, and some cannot be rebutted (e.g. paternity by adoption or consent cannot be rebutted). Special rules apply in cases involving sperm and/or egg donation that are an evolving area of law and vary considerably from state to state.

Sometimes the grounds for presuming paternity include more than one possible father, sometimes they include none, sometimes they include one possible father. It is also possible in some states under some circumstances to have more than one legal father (e.g. if there is an adoption because a father was presumed dead and turns out to have not died, or in the context of a same sex marriage).

There is also a statute of limitations after which a presumption of paternity cannot be rebutted if it exists for child support purposes, which varies from state to state, typically one to five years, and typically a child can seek a paternity determination if there is no presumed or legally adjudicated father at any time until a few years after turning age eighteen. This statute of limitations doesn't always apply for other purposes (e.g. inheritance).

In circumstances where the presumption of paternity is rebuttable, or where there is no presumption of paternity but there is a showing (e.g. by a sworn statement of the mother) that the person sued for paternity is a possible parent, usually a DNA test is administered to the possible father and the child, and that resolves the issue conclusively (except in vanishingly rare freak cases, for example, of identical twins who both had sex with the mother, or alleged wrongdoing in the conduct of the DNA test).

If paternity is established, then child support is awarded based upon custody arrangements and the incomes of the parties and extraordinary expenses and in certain extraordinary cases, based upon other factors (e.g. a father or mother with great wealth but little income).

After a legal adjudication of paternity, the birth certificate is also amended, if necessary.

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