Can you get a “refund” if the child that you’ve been supporting turns out not actually to be yours? More often than you might think, family law attorneys in Rochester are asked this question.

If you learn that the child you’ve been supporting is not yours, submitting some DNA results to a New York family court may not always be enough to release from the court’s child support order.

WHAT IS ALWAYS A FAMILY COURT’S LEADING PRIORITY?

That’s because in legal matters that involve children, the courts in New York make the child’s best interests their top priority.

You may have all of the facts and evidence lined up to make your case persuasively, and a good family lawyer can ensure that you are treated fairly, but your own interests will not be the court’s highest priority.

In the state of New York, if you are paying court-ordered child support, and if you want a DNA test to confirm or deny paternity, that request must be made to the court. If a DNA test proves that you are not the child’s biological father, a child support order isn’t automatically terminated.

WILL YOU NEED A FAMILY LAW ATTORNEY?

Instead, a hearing will be scheduled, and a family court judge will make a determination that is in the best interests of the child.

And in some cases, what is in the child’s best interests may require you to continue making child support payments, at least temporarily, even though you know you are not the biological father.

In any paternity matter or child support dispute in the Rochester area or anywhere in western New York State, you’ll need to be advised and represented by an experienced family law attorney.

WHAT IS AN “ACKNOWLEDGMENT OF PATERNITY” IN NEW YORK?

Under New York law, when a child’s parents are not married, legal paternity is established when the child’s presumptive father voluntarily signs an Acknowledgment of Paternity form.

The Acknowledgment of Paternity form strongly warns presumptive fathers, “DO NOT sign an Acknowledgment of Paternity if, after reading this written notice and receiving oral notice, you have any doubts about the child’s paternity.”

Nevertheless, and for a variety of reasons, this warning is often overlooked or ignored, and a man becomes the legal father of a child that is not in fact biologically his own.

An Acknowledgment of Paternity that has been signed voluntarily by both parents is legally binding in the state of New York and establishes the lawful obligation of both parents to support the child financially.

CAN YOU CANCEL AN ACKNOWLEDGMENT OF PATERNITY?

Let’s say that after signing an Acknowledgment of Paternity, you learn that you are not, in fact, the child’s biological father. Is there any way that you can withdraw your Acknowledgment of Paternity after you’ve signed it?

If you are 18 years of age or older when you sign an Acknowledgment of Paternity form, you may withdraw it at any time within the first sixty days after you signed it.

If you sign an Acknowledgment of Paternity form and you are under the age of 18, you may withdraw it up to sixty days after your 18th birthday.

After those deadlines expire, anyone who has signed an Acknowledgment of Paternity may challenge it in court only if he or she signed the document while under duress or intimidation or on the basis of fraud or factual error.

HOW IS AN ACKNOWLEDGMENT OF PATERNITY VACATED?

The burden of proof falls on the party who wishes to withdraw the Acknowledgment of Paternity. If you’re in western New York, you’ll need to be represented by a reputable family law attorney.

If a New York family court judge determines that the man who signed the Acknowledgment of Paternity is not, in fact, the biological father of the child, the Acknowledgment of Paternity – but not, at that point, the child support order – may be vacated.

The court will send a copy of the order vacating the Acknowledgment of Paternity to the state’s Putative Father Registry and to the state’s child support enforcement unit if a child’s parent is receiving any child support services.

WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO SIGN AN ACKNOWLEDGMENT OF PATERNITY?

To answer our first question – can you “get a refund” if you’ve paid child support for a child who is not yours? – that answer is no, because when you made those payments, you were meeting a legal obligation that you accepted when you signed an Acknowledgment of Paternity.

In any event, as mentioned previously, the child’s best interests will always be a New York family court’s top priority.

Can you have the child support order dropped if you acquire proof that you are not the biological father, and that proof was not available when the child support order was first issued? Possibly, but you will need help from a knowledgeable and experienced family attorney.

WHAT IS THE COURT’S VIEW OF PATERNITY ACKNOWLEDGMENTS?

However, any man in this situation needs to understand the court’s perspective. When you signed a paternity acknowledgment, a father-child relationship was legally established. Even if it seems unfair, the child’s best interests, and not yours, will be the court’s chief concern.

If you can show that you were intimidated, coerced, lied to, or tricked in some way into signing a paternity acknowledgment, it will strengthen your case, but there is no guarantee that the state of New York will release you from your child support obligation before the child’s 18th birthday.

Of course, men can avoid this kind of legal problem almost entirely with some foreknowledge. The key is to have reliable DNA testing conducted before and not after you sign an Acknowledgment of Paternity.

HOW CAN A FAMILY LAWYER HELP YOU?

But if you’ve learned – or if you believe – that you are paying child support for a child who is not yours, discuss your circumstances, rights, options, and alternatives as quickly as possible with a skilled New York family law attorney.

You’ll learn where you stand legally and how the law applies to your personal situation. Your attorney will recommend the best way to move forward. If you want to stop making child support payments, you’ll need a lawyer who can present a powerful case on your behalf.

If you are being unfairly forced to pay for a child who is not yours, having a good attorney’s advice is the first step, and it is your legal right.