The Difference Between Biology and Law

Paternity can be a difficult issue and can have life-changing effects if not properly established and accepted. Obviously every child has a biological father, however, if a child is born to two unwed partners, that child is defined as not having a legal father. This means that no man has any legal rights or responsibilities when it comes to the child and the child may ultimately suffer by not having the same benefits and rights as children of a married couple.  In order for the child and father to receive these rights the paternity must be established.  There are two ways that an unmarried partnership can establish paternity: first, the father can volunteer to sign an Acknowledgment of Paternity form or secondly, both parties can apply to the court to determine paternity. These and other paternity matters, including child support issues can be dealt with at a good family law firm.

The Child’s Birth – And What Men Should Know

When a child is born, the mother’s husband is automatically that child’s father in the eyes of the law, unless a court determines otherwise. The legal process to determine another father for the child outside of the marriage will usually include a court hearing, whereby the mother, her husband and – often – the biological father of the child will give their evidence or written testimony establishing the facts of the case. DNA tests are often included in these court hearings. Such proceedings are quite straightforward, and can be handled very efficiently by a good family law department. If, however, there’s a case of contested paternity, the court usually orders a genetic marker test – or a DNA test – to determine the paternity of a child. These cases can get a little messier: in its most basic form, the case itself indicates that the father does not believe himself the father of a child. In some cases, the mother may not be entirely sure of paternity and therefore all parties require a DNA test to establish whose responsibility the child is. These issues can become very heated between parties – but are quickly determined by the DNA test, so long as everyone agrees peacefully to follow this genetic marker route.

Rights of a Father Before Birth

An obvious ethical and legal question is: at what point does a father become the father of a child? This is part of a much larger question: when does a life become a life? That we won’t delve into here. However, since abortion is a highly contentious topic at the best of times – with pro-lifers and pro-choice campaigners never agreeing on when a life begins, nor whether the rights of a baby begin at time of birth or earlier – we can see that paternity issues only exacerbate these issues. Naturally, views on abortion – and certainly the question of who has a right to decide whether an abortion can be carried out – are further complicated when there is argument over the unborn child’s paternity. At the moment, the law states that the decision to abort rests with the mother but it’s a generally contentious issue. If anything ever did change, there are fears that if fathers are granted the ability to deny a woman the right to abort a fetus, perhaps this power would extend further: could it extend (or at least have implications for) her choice of birth control or access to emergency birth control? As Kwik Med states, “the main ethical objection to Emergency Contraception (EC) is that it is a form of abortion. These objections hinge on the definition of when pregnancy begins. The most common scientific view is that pregnancy begins when the embryo becomes embedded in the uterus, while, for most objectors, it is at the point of conception. The latter view leads to the possibility that any method that potentially destroys the embryo can be seen as a form of abortion”. We see from this that the topic is a tangled and fascinating one, even without the difficulties of a contested paternity.

What’s The Future?

At the moment, legalities surrounding paternity are pretty clear cut: if a man signs an Acknowledgement of Paternity form at the hospital or shortly afterwards, there is no issue and he acknowledges himself as the child’s legal father. Also, if the unmarried couple decide to go to court to legally declare the child as belonging to both of them, the hearing is quite short and uncomplicated, simply involving an acknowledgement by both parties that this is the case. As we know, areas that will continue to gain much attention are the rights of fathers – particularly in abortion cases. Although at the moment, the law favors the female’s rights over her own body, (meaning that she need not seek permission from her partner in order to abort their baby) we can imagine that in the future – with more use of frozen embryos, for example – this view of the woman’s sole right over her body may be slightly altered. We can anticipate that this position will continue to be reviewed and debated – and this will no doubt prove to be a very hot topic over coming years.

This article was presented by a guest author, Melissa Johnson.

About Elliot S. Schlissel

Elliot S. Schlissel, Esq. has spent more that 45 years representing individuals in matrimonial and family law cases.