PATERNITY: A FATHER’S RIGHTS AND RESPONSIBILITIES
When a child is born to unmarried parents, the hospital or other “birthing center” must provide the birth parents with an opportunity to sign an acknowledgment of paternity, with an explanation of the parental rights and duties associated with the acknowledgment. If an acknowledgment is not signed, a court may determine a man to be the father through “blood tests.” The father will have custodial rights and the mother and child may be entitled to support if a blood test is used to identify the father. 23 Pa.C.S. §5101
In accordance with the Pennsylvania Rules of Civil Procedure (Pa. R.C.P. 1910.15), a mother can seek support from a father who has acknowledged paternity. If the father does not acknowledge paternity the court can order “genetic testing.” If the results of the test show him to be the father by 99% certainty, he may defend against the finding only by proving by clear and convincing evidence that the test was unreliable.
Recently, the Pennsylvania Superior Court decided in a case known as H.Z. v. M.B., 2019 PA Super 33, an alleged father, known as M.B., was excluded by genetic testing, requiring the dismissal of paternity and child support proceedings. The mother hired a private investigator who took the man’s discarded Starbucks coffee cup from a trash can to test his DNA. When this “Starbucks test” showed the man to be the father, mother again requested child support, in the Court of Common Pleas of Montgomery County. Following a buccal swab test, he was excluded again as the father. The Starbucks test was eventually excluded as evidence, so the Court focused attention on the right of the mother to request additional testing and the right of M.B. to have the case dismissed.
After many legal issues were raised and tried, with two court-ordered genetic tests excluding M.B., the mother sought additional blood, buccal swab and hair follicle tests. M.B. demanded dismissal of the case. The Superior Court ultimately decided that the opportunity to attain additional genetic testing applies only to the “initial test” performed. The legal proceedings had required the testimony of many expert witnesses, and the judges who had heard the case finally relied on a two-step process was required by the applicable law, 23 Pa C.S.A. §5104(d). The party requesting additional testing beyond the first test has to show, by a preponderance of the evidence, that the test was unreliable. Second, the trial court must determine whether a subsequent test is justified considering the Fourth Amendment privacy interests of the parties. This case was remanded to the trial court with a suggestion that the trial court order alternative or different forms of paternity testing. It remains to be seen whether M.B. is the father of the child after the trial court hears the case again.
If you want to know more about paternity, support and other family law issues, consult with an attorney at the Mazza Law Group for advice and representation.