Paternity Laws: Paying Child Support For A Child You Do Not Know

advice on divorceQuestion:

My question is about child support and paternity laws.

I am the biological father of a child born to an ex-girlfriend, though I have not spoken or seen either in many years.

The mother of my child recently contacted me and said she wants our child to meet me so he could know who his father is.

I suspect she only wants this meeting to take place so can serve me with child support papers even though we both agreed many years ago that it would be best if I was not involved in our child’s life.

How can I protect myself in this situation? Is there an agreement we can reach that will hold up in a court of law stating she will not request child support?

Answer:

This answer only includes general divorce help for men since I am only licensed to practice in Oklahoma and am thus unable to provide legal advice on divorce or paternity laws in your state.

If you believe the child is yours and you’d like to develop a relationship with him, you may consider legally defining that relationship once and for all.

In order to protect yourself from a claim for child support and arrearages from the child’s mother, you would need a court order showing that you are the child’s father, that the two of you agree that child support won’t be paid, and that the child’s mother forgoes any claim for arrearages.

To do this you would file a paternity action requesting that the court adjudicate these issues. Essentially, you will ask the court to proclaim that you are the child’s father and enter orders regarding child custody, visitation, and child support. Then you and the child’s mother will memorialize your agreements regarding these issues in an order signed by the court.

There is risk, though. If the two of you are unable to reach agreements, or your agreements fall apart before the order is entered, you would go to trial and the court would decide everything for you.

A paternity action may also be a risky move because once you open that door, there may be no going back. If you don’t have any agreements in place, or she decides she wants current and back child support before a final order is entered, the court will most likely order it. You will need to be absolutely positive she won’t pursue child support once the paternity action has begun.

One strategy might be to speak with the child’s mother, reach agreements regarding child custody, visitation, and child support before you ever file your paternity action, have a divorce lawyer draft all the necessary paperwork for the case, have the child’s mother sign off on the pleadings, then file everything all at once with the court.

That way, the case starts and is ended as quickly as possible and she has no opportunity to change her mind because she has already signed everything. If you choose to pursue this strategy or something similar, I strongly recommend you seek the advice of an experienced family law attorney.

Also keep in mind that if she or the child is receiving any assistance from the state, i.e., health care coverage or child care subsidies, she may not be able to agree to forgo any back monies owed.

In such a case, because the state is extending services, it may be a necessary party to the action, may have a claim to payment from you for those services, and will likely have to sign off on any agreements you and the child’s mother reach.

With all this said, with regard to child support, it likely makes no difference that you’ve had little or no relationship with the child to this point.

If the child’s mother decides to pursue current or past child support, the fact that you’ve never been a father to the child won’t matter. You’ll be able to fight it, but if you are found to be the child’s father, the court will almost always order you to pay support and arrearages.

The point is, if you believe the child is yours and you’d like to meet him and develop a relationship, don’t let the child support issue stop you.

Unless a court declares you are not the father, or enters an order saying you don’t have to pay child support, the child’s mother can go after you for the money at any time.

Your best bet may be to follow your heart with regard to your relationship with the child, but cover yourself with regard to child support by taking the initiative to maintain control over the issue yourself by not leaving it to the child’s mother or the court.

To set up an appointment with a Cordell and Cordell mens divorce attorney, including Oklahoma City Divorce Lawyer Christian D. Barnard, please contact Cordell & Cordell.

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