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What is a Paternity Suit?

Mary McMahon
Updated Mar 06, 2024
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A paternity suit is a legal action which is taken to determine the identity of the father of a child. There are a number of reasons to initiate this type of suit, but most suits are filed to establish financial or moral responsibility on the part of one or both parents involved. A paternity lawsuit may also be used to gain visitation rights, or to settle a contentious issue. Parents can also avoid these types of suits by working out an amicable private agreement.

Several people can file a paternity suit. Mothers often file them to legally establish the identity of the man who fathered the child in question. This legal decision can be used to sue for child support and other benefits. A man may file this type of lawsuit to clear up his position in a case, and a child can file one to find out who his or her father is. Certain government agencies may also initiate paternity suits, especially in the cases of contentious adoptions.

One of the best ways to establish paternity is a blood test, which may be ordered by the court if the parents cannot reach an agreement. If the blood test indicates that the man in question is not the father of the child, the suit is dismissed. On the other hand, the outcome of the test may indicate that the man is the father of the child, in which case the court will usually work with the parents to reach an agreement on custody, child support, and related issues.

In many cases, a paternity suit is filed by an unmarried woman. The husband in a married couple is presumed to be the father of any children born in wedlock, unless proved otherwise. A husband may use a paternity suit to prove a case of adultery and to potentially absolve himself of any financial responsibility towards a child who is not his.

Typically, a paternity suit is handled by a lawyer who specializes in family law such as divorce, mediation, and disputes over child custody and support. The lawyer usually has a serious discussion with the person filing the suit, to ensure that the suit has solid grounds and will not be viewed as harassment or a "nuisance" suit. Depending on the region in which the suit is filed, the suit may also be dealt with in family court, rather than in a general court. In some cases, mediation and other support services are offered through the court, in an attempt to resolve the situation amicably, no matter what the outcome of the case is.

PublicPeople is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a PublicPeople researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments

By anon326124 — On Mar 20, 2013

Our second child was born 12 years ago to my then-wife and me. Our first child looks identical to me. Four years ago, my wife divorced me, and I got both kids. My ex-wife then married her longtime high school friend who has been in and out of the picture throughout our marriage. My ex-wife currently pays me child support. What options do I have if my second child was fathered by this other man?

By anon311892 — On Jan 04, 2013

My son is now ten years old and his father is in Washington DC. The absence of legal treaties between my country and his has delayed issues. He was moving around and I almost gave up. Is there any hope? As you may have realized, we were not married.

By anon296960 — On Oct 14, 2012

@Post 1: Yes, he can file a paternity suit.

@Post 2: I'm in the same situation and he cannot file harassment charges against you for attempting to establish child support. If I were you, I would go to my local social services office and file for child support and let them deal with the headache of tracking him down and getting him to take the test. I did and this coming Wednesday, I will finally prove that this "cheese for brains" man is the father of my two month old son.

It may -- and usually does -- take longer than two months, especially if you don't have all his info, but give them what you've got and stay on top of what your case worker is doing and continue to stay on their case until you get your child what they deserve from his/her father.

@Post 3: Yes, but it's a very dangerous procedure. I would just wait until the baby is born.

@Post 4: Yes he can.

@Post 5: In some states, such as Colorado, if you sign the birth certificate and are later shown not to be the genetic father, you can still have a financial obligation to the child. To me, it's bullcrap.

@Post 6: Girl, get 'em and get 'em good.

By anon147952 — On Jan 31, 2011

i have a daughter who is one year old by a romanian man who left me when i was 20 weeks pregnant. he went back to his country and i found out he is already married.

i have taken court action against him in romania. i want a court ordered dna test done. he has now admitted a sexual relationship with me but still denies our child, saying i am married and it belongs to my husband which is complete rubbish. do you think after i have proved I'm not married i will eventually get a dna test done on him? he is a complete liar. my child is a uk citizen as am i.

By anon126204 — On Nov 11, 2010

I am not the father. The DNA proved I cannot be the father. Because of the length of time before the testing was done it appears nothing can be done to dismiss me as the child's father. is this true?

By anon64288 — On Feb 06, 2010

my son was in a relationship. she then started dating another man and she announced she was pregnant.

the new man is marrying her, thinking the baby is his. There is no way it is, but she denies that it is my son's. legally can he make her consent to a dna test?

By anon16420 — On Aug 05, 2008

I met this guy from Plenty of Fish and we met for the first time and now, I am pregnant. I am 4 weeks. I kept on telling that I was before the test showed positive.. Today, I had another pregnant test and it is positive. I even had a blood test done today and the test is positive. The father of the child denies the child is his but he is. He will not return my calls. I seen him four times already. And this morning and afternoon I told him that this is real.. and not a joke.

Is there a DNA test that can be done now before giving birth to the baby to determine that the guy is the father?

By anon14631 — On Jun 20, 2008

i am a mother of a three year old boy, my boyfriend got me pregnant but left me just as soon as he found out about it. my relationship with the father of my son is very complicated, and at this point I am not sure if he is married or not. he refuses to take his responsibility as the father and even denied that he is the father. we already broke up before something happened to us. but im 100% sure he is the father because he is my only boyfriend. i told him im willing to do a DNA test but he also didn't want it. i keep calling him and sending him messages but he threatened me that he will file a case of harassment. i want to know what steps should i take to file a paternity suit. and i want to know if calling him and texting him can be a ground for harassment. please advise...

By anon8318 — On Feb 11, 2008

I have a friend who is trying to get visitation of his little girl. However the mother did not write him down as the father on the birth certificate. And she is not allowing him visitation rights. I would like to know if he in fact can file a paternity suit?

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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