Paternity lawyers deal with matters arising out of the parental relationship of a father and child. A paternity lawyer can not only help with establishing paternity and to arrange contact and residence with a child and these are the two topics covered here.
Conversely, a mother may wish to prove who the father of her child is and to then seek to ensure that the biological father is responsible financially for his child.
Can a paternity test be imposed on a man ?
The short answer is, legally, yes a court can order a man to take a paternity test, and this is known as a Section 20 Direction. Before making any such order, 3 factors need to be evident to potentially satisfy the court :-
- The man is refusing to take a test
- Efforts have been made via the Child Support Agency to confirm paternity and establish possible financial liability of the man, without success
- The test is in the best interests of the child
Also remember that this is civil not criminal law. With civil law, even if a court orders a paternity test, and the man still refuses to have it, the sanctions would rarely if ever be a spell in prison. Instead the court may then make a presumption, and associated orders, that the refusal to take the test means the man in question is the biological father as far as the court is concerned. Careful consideration and advice are recommended before making an application for a compulsory paternity test order.
Firstly, where paternity is disputed a court will ask that the father take part in a DNA test. This will provide conclusive results as to who the child biological father is. However, once this has been established this does not automatically provide the father with legal rights such as:
- Taking a child on holiday
- Attend parent’s evenings
- Consent to medical treatment
For children born after 1st December 2003, a father’s name needs to be included in their child’s birth certificate so that they can have “parental responsibility” for the child along with the mother. Once the father has parental responsibility then he can enjoy the rights mentioned above as well as the benefit for the child of knowing who their birth father is.
Fathers whose names do not appear on birth certificates may need the assistance of a paternity lawyer because the law is not straightforward. For these fathers or those whose children were born before 1st December 2003, the best way to obtain parental responsibility is by either marrying the mother of the child or entering into a Parental Responsibility Agreement with the mother or by a Parental Responsibility Order from the court. The court will not grant such an Order without the father proving that he is committed to the child, that there is attachment between the child and the father and that it is in the child’s best interest. If the father is successful in obtaining parental responsibility, this will automatically cease when the child reaches 18 or earlier if so decided by the court.
Please note that parental responsibility does not guarantee contact between the father and child and you should obtain legal advice to ensure that when establishing paternity you are able to enjoy a relationship with your child in the manner you are hoping.
There are different rules with regards to establishing paternity where the birth father is a sperm donor. A sperm donor cannot be the legal father if the mother is married and the husband consented to the insemination or the mother is in a civil partnership and the partner consented to the insemination. However if neither of these apply then the donor is the legal father provided the mother consents to the same. This can of course be altered by entering into a parental responsibility agreement as described above.
Before making decisions about residence, the court will primarily consider what is in the best interest of the children and it is important to bear in mind that there is a legal presumption that the mother has spent more time caring for the child and therefore they may automatically be the preferred choice.
If father makes an application for residence then the father and his solicitor will have to prove that the father spent more time caring for the child. Parents can also agree to apply for a Shared Residence Order, where the parties agree which days the children will spend with whom. If parents can come to an agreement like this then the matter is best deal with outside the courts with the assistance of paternity lawyers and mediation as this will be quicker and cheaper.
If you would like advice and assistance on any paternity law or family law issue, please get in touch with me for a free initial discussion.