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Establish Paternity
Establishing Paternity of a Child

In-Hospital Acknowledgment
All hospitals in Pennsylvania are required to provide an opportunity for new parents, who are not husband and wife, to voluntarily acknowledge parentage of a newborn. Reports from clients suggest that some hospitals do a more thorough job at explaining rights, obligations, and legal implications than others. Efforts are underway to strengthen that program. Parties should be fully informed before signing such an acknowledgment. After a 60-day rescission period, it is very difficult to undo the acknowledgment. PACSES will indicate that paternity has already been established. At that point, it would take court action outside the Domestic Relations process to re-open the paternity issue.

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Paternity EstablishementPaternity Establishment at the DRS
In Pennsylvania, there is no separate paternity filing. The question of paternity establishment arises only in conjunction with filing for child support. When a child’s mother is in the process of filing a complaint for support, she must indicate on the complaint whether the child is born outside of a marriage. The worker will check PACSES (statewide computer system) to determine whether there has been an in-hospital acknowledgment of paternity.

If so, the case will proceed to support establishment. If not, the mother will be required to name the alleged father, providing identifying information and an address where he can be served with a Notice to Appear for a child support conference. After completing the complaint for support, the worker will schedule the support conference (normally about four weeks after).

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At the Support Conference
Support conferences with paternity issues are scheduled every other Wednesday. Prior to meeting with a conference officer, a staff person interviews each party, explaining the legal rights and the benefits of genetic testing. If the parties agree to have genetic testing there is a brief appearance before the conference officer before moving on to the testing process.

Before proceeding with the establishment of a support obligation, the conference officer will give the parties the opportunity to voluntarily acknowledge paternity or to have parentage established conclusively through genetic testing. If the parties acknowledge, the support conference continues.

If the parties choose to have genetic testing, the alleged father is asked to sign a stipulation, which states that if the results from the testing are 99% or higher he agrees that he is the biological father of the child or children. If the results are less than 99%, an order would be entered excluding him from parentage of that child. The support conference would be canceled.

The conference is continued for about a month to allow time for test results to come back. Parties are immediately taken to a private area where saliva is collected from the mother, the alleged father and the child by means of a Q-Tip known as a buccal swab. Samples are placed in packages along with photos of the parties, employing standard chain of evidence procedures, to Orchid Cellmark for analysis.

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Genetic TestingHow Genetic Testing Works
All individuals inherit traits from their parents. Two genes control most of these characteristics. Each gene is located on one of a pair of chromosomes. A child inherits one gene from the mother and the other from the father. These inherited characteristics are known as genetic markers. Tests of genetic material of the mother, child, and alleged father can determine the presence or absence of common genetic markers. They also can exclude an alleged father from paternity. Otherwise, the test can predict with great accuracy the likelihood that he is the biological father of the child.

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Payment for Genetic Testing
When the results from the genetic testing indicate that paternity is established, the defendant / father is ordered to pay the costs. The current cost for testing is $32 per person. If the alleged father is excluded, he is not assessed any costs.

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The Benefits of Having Genetic Testing
Many couples, often because they are close and may be contemplating marriage or just a long term commitment, prefer to voluntarily acknowledge paternity rather than have the genetic test. Cost is no longer a major factor. Perhaps the man fears that asking for testing might cause the mother to doubt his commitment to the relationship. We recognize this possibility but prefer to err on the side of what is best for the child.

The most committed couples have bad times. Imagine that sometime in the future - say when the child is 6 or 7 years old - in the midst of a heated argument, the mother tells the father he is not the child’s father. Even if she just said it to wound him, she can never take it back. The doubt will always be there. But it is too late to do genetic testing.

While courts are more open than in the past to disestablishing paternity for cause, they still give great weight to the best interests of the child. If a child has grown up receiving nurture from a man he or she considers his or her father, the court is going to be very reluctant to cause harm to the child.

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The Benefits to Establishing Paternity
Legally established paternity allows children and mothers to gain access to valuable financial benefits. Some are immediate while others may occur later in the child’s lifetime.
  • Social Security: The child may be eligible for benefits if the father becomes disabled or dies. Benefits usually continue until the child is eighteen.
  • Military benefits: The father may draw an extra allowance to provide a household for his dependents. The child is also eligible for commissary and post exchange privileges. If the father incurs a service-related disability, the child is eligible for educational benefits.
  • Health care: A father’s employer-provided health care plan may be available to the child.
  • Worker’s compensation: Non-marital children are eligible for dependent’s benefits under worker’s compensation laws. Child Support Establishment and enforcement of a child support order depends on paternity adjudication. Support payment amounts will likely grow as the father’s future earnings increase.
  • Inheritance: A child gains the right to share in the property of an estate.
  • Medical history: Important medical and genetic information can lead to a happier and healthier life.
  • Life insurance: When paternity is established, the child may be eligible for any life insurance benefits.
  • Other benefits: The child gains most of the legal rights and privileges of a child born within a marriage. More importantly, every child has the right to know both parents.

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Obligation of a Welfare Recipient
DPW requires a recipient, as a condition for eligibility for public assistance, to cooperate with the Domestic Relations Section. This includes the establishment of paternity. However, DPW may find good cause not to establish paternity.

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If the Alleged Father Lives Outside the County
If the alleged father resides outside the county, the interviewer will assist you in deciding whether the case can be heard here or forwarded to the court where the alleged father lives. Most states have paternity establishment procedures similar to those described in this pamphlet. That court will collect the alleged father’s genetic sample, hold a hearing, and enter an order. If the alleged father denies paternity and requests a trial, that court may require your attendance.

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Can a Husband Deny Paternity?
If the child is born during the marriage, the husband would be required to file a motion before a judge to seek a hearing on the matter. At a hearing, the court would determine from the testimony whether to allow the husband to proceed with paternity testing.

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Can a Married Woman File Against Someone Other than her Husband?
Generally, the law considers a child conceived or born during a marriage to be the legitimate child of the mother’s husband. But situations exist where the general rule does not apply. As above, staff will interview you. However, you will be asked additional questions about the status of your marriage.

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Can a Man Seek Paternity of a Child?
A man, who is not the husband of a child’s mother, but claims to be the father of the child, must secure the court’s permission to initiate an action to establish paternity. Filing forms are available at the Domestic Relations Office. The petitioner must file the papers with the Prothonotary’s Office who will schedule a hearing before a Family Court judge. The child’s mother will be served with a Notice to Appear for the hearing. A judge will determine from the testimony whether to allow genetic testing. If granted, testing is generally ordered through Domestic Relations.

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