Even when parents are not married or in a relationship, the father of a minor child should be a potential source of child support. The Pennsylvania paternity laws when the identity of a child's father is in question are complex.

The mother in a paternity action is usually trying to prove that a particular man is the father of her child, often for child support. The man is commonly either denying an accusation of fatherhood or affirmatively trying to prove that he is the father.

The paternity issue can also come up when the state is trying to establish paternity for purposes of collecting child support.

Marriage and Presumption of Paternity

The state's interest in preserving families allows, when a child is born during an "intact" marriage where the family resides together and the husband assumes the role of father, an irrebuttable presumption that he is the father. The only way around this presumption is by clear and convincing evidence that the husband did not have access to his wife, or that he was impotent or sterile.

A Pennsylvania court upheld this presumption despite evidence of the mother's affair around the time of conception. The husband was not ordered to undergo a blood test.

Unmarried Parents and Acknowledgment of Paternity

When a child is born to an unmarried mother in Pennsylvania, the father can file an acknowledgement of paternity. If the mother consents, the father is granted the same rights and duties concerning the child that he would have had if he had been married to the mother. The child is granted the same concerning the father.

If the mother does not join in the acknowledgment, the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare keeps the father's claim on file in case he needs notice of a later attempt to terminate anyone's parental rights, but he does not get the rights or duties of a father. The father's acknowledgment, however, establishes paternity in any future child support action. The acknowledgment may also come into play in future adoption proceedings.

In certain situations the father can withdraw the acknowledgment.

When the parents are unmarried, the father's name can only be on the birth certificate if the parents have joined in the father's acknowledgment of paternity, or a court or agency has established paternity.

Paternity by Estoppel

In another twist of paternity law, when a person has publicly treated a child as his own or provided support, even if that father figure is not the biological father, the court may determine that paternity by estoppel applies, meaning the man who acted as the father may not disclaim parentage. This concept developed to protect kids from the confusion and hurt of finding out the person who always held himself out as the father was in fact not biologically so.

Court Action on Paternity

Pennsylvania has a long, complicated court rule that lays out procedures for the establishment or denial of paternity in a court action for support of a child. In this action the issues of paternity by estoppel or presumption of paternity may be raised.

The court may order genetic testing in certain situations and the rule lays out when the defendant may be found to be the father. Such a trial may only be before a judge without a jury, and a paternity finding by the court may not be appealed, except as part of an appeal of a related child support order.

Get Legal Advice

If you are involved in a Pennsylvania paternity matter, it is in your best interest to consult an experienced family law attorney to learn about your legal rights and options under this complex set of laws.