It can be a real challenge for a single mother to navigate the court system to get child support. Making the situation more complicated is when the child’s father has not been identified. The first step is to establish paternity.
This article provides an overview of paternity law in Delaware. If you are considering a paternity action or have questions about paternity, you should contact an experienced family law attorney in your area.
Paternity is simply the status of being a father. Establishing paternity means that a court has determined who a child’s father is.
Under Delaware law, any of the following individuals or entities can bring a paternity matter in the Delaware family court:
A paternity case can be filed before the child is born, but the court will not make a final decision until after the baby’s birth. The case must be started before the child’s 18th birthday at the latest. But, Delaware law does not prohibit the child from filing a case. If the adult child wants to pursue a paternity case, he or she can do so at any time.
The court can order the mother, alleged father and child to submit to genetic testing to prove paternity. To be considered valid, the test result must show that there is at least a 99 percent likelihood that the alleged father is the biological father. State law has very specific standards for what tests are suitable. It is wise to ask the court for an order that specifies what tests are acceptable before any testing is done.
Even if there is no testing, the court can consider other evidence to make a ruling of paternity. If the alleged father does not agree to be tested, the court can rule that he is in contempt and then find that he is the biological father. If a man marries the child’s mother after the child’s birth and they lived together as a family for the next two years, the law allows the judge to rule that the man is the child’s biological father.
The court also has the authority to order the alleged father’s blood relatives to be tested to prove a genetic link between the child and the alleged father, if the father is unavailable. The law names the alleged father’s father, brother or other children as possible candidates for testing.
When paternity is determined, Delaware courts can order child support, health insurance coverage, custody and visitation. Obviously, for the mother who is raising the child, it is helpful to get the father to contribute some financial support for the child.
For a father who may want to be a part of his child’s life, the court can order visitation as well as decide who should have "legal custody," which means the right to make major life decisions on the child’s behalf. These include such matters as medical treatment, educational issues, religious upbringing and the like.
The child may benefit from having a dad in his or her life as well. Once paternity is established, the child may also realize an inheritance upon his or her father's death. If the dad is disabled and collecting Social Security benefits, the child may also be eligible for benefits as the disabled dad’s dependent.
Delaware law allows fathers to voluntarily acknowledge paternity. In those instances, the state’s vital statistics department will amend the birth certificate to list the father’s name.
The Delaware Division of Child Support Enforcement offers free assistance to parents who want to establish paternity and receive child support. Go to the website, www.dhss.delaware.gov/dcse, and click on “Establishing Paternity” to learn what the agency provides.
The state’s court website has a fill-in form to start a paternity action with the court. Go to www.courts.state.de.us/forms. Enter the search term “paternity” to access the form.