It's one of the biggest emotional blows a parent can be dealt. You may spend years raising a child, going through highs and lows, only to find out that you are not your child's biological father. If you've found yourself in this situation, you're likely to be feeling pain, anger, and guilt -- especially if you're considering divorcing your spouse. What legal responsibilities do you have to a child who is not your own? What options do you have if you'd like to remain in your child's life? Read on to learn more about this sobering situation.
How many individuals are affected by this type of situation?
Because many individuals will never discover they are not their child's biological father, and most mothers who are keeping this secret are reluctant to disclose, it is difficult to pinpoint the exact number of cases of paternity fraud -- however, some estimates indicate that in between 1 and 30 percent of all live births that the person listed as father on the child's birth certificate may not be the biological father.
What should you do if you find out you are not your child's father?
Before you take any drastic action, you should consult a paternity or family attorney who is familiar with local laws. State child support regulations can differ dramatically, and if you abandon the relationship with your wife or girlfriend, you may still find yourself responsible for certain expenses related to your wife's child.
If you believe your marriage or relationship can be salvaged, you may wish to petition to adopt your child. This will confer all the same rights as a biological parent and will ensure that you have just as much right as your child's biological parent to be a part of the child's life. Although in most states, a child born of a marriage is considered the legal child of both spouses, petitioning the court for adoption can cement this relationship even if you later divorce.
If you'd like out of your relationship but still want to remain a part of your child's life, you may be able to work out a visitation or custody arrangement with your ex-spouse. You can also choose to provide financial assistance and support to your child. In most cases, a voluntary provision of support to a non-related child is considered a "gift," and will not later be held against you if you don't want to pay formal child support.
Finally, you should be proactive if you want to make a clean, complete break. Unfortunately, you can still be sued for child support even if you are not the biological parent. Your attorney should require your ex-spouse to issue paternity tests to all potential fathers so that the person who is truly financially responsible for the child can step up.
For more information, contact a firm such as The Huntsman Firm.