Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Jun 19, 2018

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A surprising number of men end up paying child support for a child that is not their own. The basic rationale for this result is that the laws that revolve around child support are more focused on ensuring that the child grows up with the support of an identified father or that the state is relieved of providing financial support for a child.

Children Born During a Marriage

The husband is presumed to be the father of a child born during or after his marriage to the mother. In some states, there is an irrefutable presumption of paternity. This means that if a child is born during the marriage, you will be deemed the father, even if a DNA later says otherwise. Other states do allow you to rebut, or challenge, paternity if you comply within strict time limits to challenge paternity. If you consent to your divorce being finalized without contesting paternity, you will forever be deemed the father. This presumption cannot be rebutted, even if you didn’t have reason to believe the child was not yours. Once a judgment or order decrees that you are the father of a child, challenging the judgment with an appeal or motion, even on grounds like fraud , is very time sensitive and difficult.

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Children Born Before Marriage

Some states impose a presumption of paternity on putative fathers. This applies when a child is born before marriage. After birth, you agree either to have your name on the birth certificate, to support the child, or you welcome the child into your home and openly tell people the child is your own. Essentially, if you tell everyone you are the father, then the courts will agree. Some states do allow you to contest, or challenge, this presumption as well. However, the time window in which you must challenge the presumption is usually very strict

Child by Consent

Laws favor someone being named the father because they do not want a child going through life fatherless. The equitable doctrine of estoppel applies to persons who have for all practical purposes consented to being dad, regardless of paternity. The basic theory is that since you acted like a parent and permitted the child to believe you were their father, the child now has a right to rely on your representation that you are their father. The reasoning is that the child should not be penalized by your later withdrawal of consent to be their dad. Once a court makes that determination, you are on the hook for future support obligations.

Every state approaches parental presumptions slightly different. The bottom line, however, is that the longer you wait to challenge paternity, the harder it will be to overturn the finding of paternity. Courts consistently hold presumed fathers to strict timelines. If you have been ordered to pay child support for a child that you know or suspect is not your own, seek legal advice from a qualified family law attorney in your state as soon as possible to learn about the options and timelines applicable to your situation.