Paternity can be established in the following ways:
- By order of court after a hearing
- Have a genetic test performed
- Marriage to the birth mother at the time of birth
- Sign an Acknowledgement of Paternity form at a conference or hearing
- Sign an Acknowledgement of Paternity form at the hospital
Acknowledgement of Paternity
An (alleged) father can choose to sign an Acknowledgement of Paternity form and become legally responsible for a child or can refuse. Refusal results in genetic testing, the cost of which will be paid by the alleged father. The current cost for testing as of January 1, 2020 is $59.25 per family or $19.75 per person and will be performed on-site at the Domestic Relations office. If an ( alleged) father elects to have this testing and the results show that he is the father and he disputes those results (thinks that the testing was inadequate or improperly performed), he may request a trial on the issue of paternity before the Judge. There may be additional costs if testing is completed outside of Washington County.
Without filing a petition for support or answering a petition filed against him, a putative father may seek to establish paternity of a child by filing a complaint as established by Pennsylvania Rule of Court 1930.6. Testing will be ordered only after a hearing on the matter is complete. This option is open only to putative fathers. Mothers should proceed through the support process.
In support matters, Pennsylvania law allows an alleged father (defendant) to acknowledge that he is the father of the child or request to have testing performed to determine paternity. Acknowledgement of Paternity forms may be signed in the hospital at the time of a child’s birth or at a support establishment conference.
In Washington County, paternity testing is done utilizing buccal swab DNA testing. In this type of testing, a Domestic Relations Staff member will take a buccal swab (which is similar to a large Q-Tip) and swab the inside cheek of the mother and child and the alleged father to collect a cell sample for DNA analysis. These samples are then sent to the lab and results are generally returned within four to six weeks. Once the DRS receives the results, a copy of them will be sent to both parties.
When results of this type of testing are returned, they generally come back at either 0% (meaning the defendant is excluded as the father of the child) or at 99.5% or above.
Under Pennsylvania law, when test results from testing of this type are returned at 99% or higher, there is a presumption created that the defendant is the father of the child. What this means is that, if the defendant requests a trial to challenge the results of the test, it is his burden to prove that he is not the father, as opposed to the Commonwealth’s burden to prove that he is the father. In such cases, it is the defendant’s obligation to bring forth evidence and testimony to the Court to show that the testing was performed improperly or that the results were otherwise inaccurate.
In almost all paternity cases, the parties will be asked to sign a stipulation. This stipulation is not required to be signed, but it must be explained. This stipulation (which is nothing more than a written agreement between the mother and alleged father) states that if the test results come back at 99% or higher, the defendant (alleged father) agrees that he is the father of the child and gives up his right to have a trial to challenge the test results. In addition, the plaintiff (mother) agrees that if the results come back at 0%, that the defendant is not the father of the child and the case is dismissed without further involvement of the parties.
Importance of Establishing Paternity
The establishment of paternity is very important for a child for many reasons including: permitting that child to have their father listed on the birth certificate, giving that child the right to inherit from the father, and giving that child the right to receive government benefits which the child might be entitled as a result of parentage.