5 Common Misconceptions About Paternity Actions

July 9, 2024by Adam Sacks

Misconceptions About Paternity Actions

Establishing paternity is necessary for both legal and emotional reasons. It grants rights and responsibilities to the biological father and benefits the child, mother, and extended family. Legal benefits include inheritance rights, social security benefits, and medical insurance coverage. It also allows the father to have custody, visitation rights, and be actively involved in the child’s life.

There are two primary methods to establish paternity for unmarried parents, namely voluntary acknowledgment and obtaining a court order. A voluntary acknowledgment entails both parents signing a legal document, typically shortly after the child’s birth, to recognize the man as the child’s father. This document can be signed at the hospital, a vital records office, or through a state agency tasked with overseeing paternity establishment.

There are numerous misconceptions about establishing paternity. These misunderstandings may stem from societal and cultural biases or a lack of awareness about the legal processes involved. We will explore the top 5 misconceptions about paternity actions.


1. Misconception: Paternity Is Automatically Established at Birth

Paternity is often assumed to be automatically established at birth. However, this is not universally true, and the specific legal requirements for establishing paternity can differ depending on the jurisdiction.

In the majority of jurisdictions, if a child is born to parents who are married, it is automatically assumed by law that the husband is the child’s legal father. This presumption of paternity occurs without the need for any additional procedures. Nevertheless, in the case of unmarried parents, this presumption does not exist, and it becomes important to legally establish paternity.


Misconception: Paternity Is Automatically Established at Birth


A court order, on the other hand, is obtained through a legal process where either parent can file a paternity lawsuit. This may involve genetic testing to determine the biological relationship between the alleged father and the child. Once the court determines paternity, it will issue an order establishing the legal father-child relationship.

The importance of establishing paternity for unmarried parents cannot be overstated. For the father, it gives him the right to seek custody or visitation and the responsibility to provide financial support for the child. For the child, it ensures access to benefits such as inheritance rights, health insurance, and social security benefits. It also establishes a legal bond between the child and the father, which can greatly benefit the child’s emotional well-being and sense of identity.

As of 2022, the percentage of births to unmarried women nationally has increased to 39.8 percent. [1]


Paternity Actions vs Paternity Testing

Establishing paternity is a critical process within family law, ensuring clarity regarding both legal rights and biological relationships. This overview explores the distinct roles of paternity actions and testing, highlighting their importance in resolving parental disputes and determining familial responsibilities.

Paternity Actions

  • Purpose: Establish legal fatherhood when paternity is disputed.
  • Initiation: Can be filed by the mother, alleged father, or state agency.
  • Objectives: Determine and legally recognize the father-child relationship, including rights and responsibilities like custody and child support.
  • Process: Involves court proceedings and may include presenting evidence and testimony.


Paternity Testing

  • Purpose: Scientifically determine biological paternity.
  • Procedure: Conducted through DNA analysis to compare genetic markers.
  • Voluntary or Court-Ordered: Can be voluntary or mandated by the court as part of a paternity action.
  • Legal Implications: Provides evidence of biological relationship but requires legal recognition through a paternity action for legal rights and responsibilities.


Key Differences

  • Focus: Paternity actions establish legal parentage, while paternity testing confirms biological parentage.
  • Outcome: Paternity actions result in a legal declaration of paternity; paternity testing provides scientific evidence to support or contest paternity in court.


2. Misconception: DNA Testing is Always Required

The misconception that DNA testing is always required to establish paternity is not accurate. While DNA testing is often used to determine biological relationships, there are situations where other types of evidence can suffice to establish paternity legally.

DNA testing is highly accurate and is considered the most reliable method of confirming paternity. It compares the child’s DNA with that of the alleged father to determine if there is a biological match. This type of testing can provide conclusive evidence and is often used when there is uncertainty or disputes regarding paternity.

The testing of DNA for paternity provides scientific evidence that can confirm or exclude a biological relationship between a child and their alleged father.

There are cases where DNA testing is not necessary to establish paternity. In some instances, circumstantial evidence can be sufficient to prove paternity. For example, if the alleged father openly acknowledges and accepts the child as their own, this voluntary acknowledgment can legally establish paternity. This can be done through a written statement, signing the birth certificate, or similar legal documents. In such cases, DNA testing may not be required as there is no dispute or uncertainty regarding the father’s identity.

Certain evidentiary factors can support a finding of paternity without DNA testing. This can include providing evidence of a sexual relationship between the parents during the period of conception or presenting witnesses who can testify to the father’s involvement and support for the child. Courts may consider these types of evidence and decide on paternity based on the totality of the circumstances.


Misconception: DNA Testing is Always Required


3. Misconception: Paternity Actions Are Only for Child Support

Many people believe that paternity actions are solely used for determining child support. However, this is a misconception. While establishing child support obligations is one aspect of paternity actions, their main purpose is to legally establish the biological or legal relationship between a father and a child.

Paternity actions are used to establish a father’s rights and responsibilities towards the child. This includes not only financial support but also the right to visitation or custody, decision-making authority, inheritance rights, and the ability to establish a bond and have a relationship with the child.

In cases where a father disputes paternity, a paternity action can be initiated to legally confirm or deny biological or legal fatherhood. This process may involve DNA testing, where paternity is determined based on genetic evidence.

Paternity testing can also benefit the child by establishing a sense of identity, and family history, and potentially provide access to benefits such as social security, health insurance, or inheritance.


4. Misconception: Paternity Actions Are Always Contentious

Many people think that paternity cases always involve anger and fighting. While some do have disputes and go to court, know that not all cases are like this. In fact, many paternity cases are resolved peacefully without a big courtroom battle.

There are several examples of cooperative paternity actions and resolutions that can help debunk this misconception. In some cases, when a man is unsure about whether he is the biological father of a child, he may voluntarily agree to submit to a paternity test to establish or refute his paternity.

In situations where paternity is established, both parents may agree on custody, visitation, and child support without resorting to litigation. They may choose to work with a mediator or engage in negotiation sessions to facilitate open communication and reach a mutually satisfactory arrangement.


Misconception: Paternity Actions Are Always Contentious


5. Misconception: Paternity Can’t Be Challenged Once Established

The belief that paternity cannot be challenged once it is legally established is a misconception. While establishing paternity is often seen as a conclusive determination of a child’s biological father, there are circumstances in which paternity can be challenged and reviewed.

The most common reason for challenging paternity is if new evidence emerges that raises doubts about the accuracy of the initial determination. For example, advancements in DNA testing, such as more accurate and reliable methods, may provide new information that contradicts the previous findings. If a credible paternity test is conducted and shows that the presumed father is not biologically related to the child, it can be grounds for challenging the established paternity.

If fraud or misrepresentation is discovered regarding the establishment of paternity, it can also be a valid reason to challenge it. For instance, if one party can prove that they were deceived or coerced into acknowledging paternity or if there is evidence of tampering with the DNA test results, it may warrant a reassessment of paternity.

In cases where a child is conceived through assisted reproductive technology, such as sperm donation or in vitro fertilization, there may be legal provisions that allow for the possibility of challenging paternity, especially if all parties involved agree to such provisions beforehand. These situations often involve complex legal and ethical considerations, making it essential to consult with legal experts familiar with relevant legislation and case law.

Therefore, if you find yourself facing any paternity-related issues, it is highly recommended to seek professional legal advice. Understanding your rights and options can help you figure out these complexities more effectively.

Book a free consultation today with Sacks & Sacks, as filing a paternity action can make a difference in your situation.



[1] Percentage of births to unmarried women in the U.S. 1980-2022. (2024, April 29). Statista. https://www.statista.com/statistics/276025/us-percentage-of-births-to-unmarried-women/

by Adam Sacks

Adam Sacks is lead Family Law Attorney at Law Offices of Sacks & Sacks, P.A. in Jacksonville, Florida. He has a BA in Psychology from 1994, and received his Juris Doctor Degree in 1999 from the Western Michigan University Cooley Law School.

Sacks and Sacks Law
1646 Emerson St. Suite B Jacksonville, FL 32207

Follow us:



Law Offices of Sacks & Sacks, P.A.

Copyright © Sacks & Sacks Law 2024
Powered by LawSmiths