Over the course of my career, and as times have changed, more and more couples live together and have families without marrying. More children are also being born to single mothers. Over the next few articles we will discuss some of the issues that confront these families.
Paternity – A child that is born to a married woman is presumed to be the child of the husband, even if the couple is separated. If a woman is married at the time of the child’s birth, then any paternity proceeding must include her husband. When a couple is separated and a child is born, it has been my experience that the husband very quickly says that he cannot be the father of the child and then scurry out of the courthouse before he is hit with an order of support.
If a child is born to an unmarried woman, the father can sign an Acknowledgment of Paternity (Family Court Act §516-a) asserting that he is the father of the child. This man now has all of the rights, and responsibilities, of parenthood. This device, which went into effect initially in 1985, has made it much easier and faster to have a man declared as a father.
If the father is unwilling to sign an Acknowledgment of Paternity, or had not been advised of the pregnancy, then he or the mother can file a Petition in Family Court seeking to have him declared as the father. If anyone is questioning whether he is the father, a genetic marker or DNA test can be ordered (FCA §532). If you have the slightest doubt, have the test performed.
Paternity actions may be brought during the pregnancy and until a child is 21 years of age, unless paternity has been acknowledged by the father in writing or by furnishing support. Recently, there has been a great deal of publicity in Guilderland over a local business person and a child that he fathered during his life, and that child’s inheritance rights. This exemplifies how important it is for paternity to be determined as soon as possible.
Support – While a married person has a duty to support his spouse (FCA §412) no such duty applies to unmarried persons.
While there has been much publicity, and little case law on the issue of “palimony”, this is a concept that has not taken off in
New York State. No one should rely on “palimony” without a valid and binding contract. However, a parent is obligated to support a child (FCA §413) regardless of the marital status between the parents. In addition to “basic” child support, a parent can be responsible for a share of health insurance and medical expenses; child care; and education costs.
While being a parent is a joyful and blessed occurrence, the obligations that go with parenthood are enormous.