It is a common misperception that just because DNA proves that you are not the father that you will be automatically excused from paying child support. As one man in Colorado, Chris Atkins, found out the hard way, it is possible to be liable for child support for a child that is not yours.
There are several scenarios in which a non-biological father can still be ordered to pay child support. For one, if you signed a Voluntary Acknowledgment of Paternity acknowledging that you are the father, you may be liable for child support even if DNA shows you are not the father. There are ways to contest it, such as by showing that you were duped to believe you were the father and then found out later that you were not and immediately went into court to disprove it.
Similarly, if you are married and get a divorce judgment that acknowledges that you are the father of said child, that judgment is valid unless you can show fraud. Although most courts would accept DNA tests as evidence of fraud, it is the timeliness in which you make this claim that is important. If you find out, or have reason to believe, that you are the not the father, you need to act on it immediately. If you wait too long, a judge may find that you consented to being the father despite evidence that you were probably not the father.
For Chris Atkins, it seems the problem was that he found out the child was not his when the child was 11 and may have waited too long to go to court. Furthermore, he did not have a lawyer at the time and was unable to lay a proper foundation to get the out-of-court DNA test entered as evidence. When he finally hired an attorney to help him, the judge found that it was too late as he was already given the opportunity to submit one and failed to do so properly.
Atkins’ ex stated she would agree to stop child support proceedings, but only if Atkins terminated his parental rights. However, terminating parental rights is not an option in most states unless there is someone else who will voluntarily step up to the plate. And that person–the child’s biological father–has stated he does not plan to do that because, although he feels bad for Atkins, if he acknowledges paternity then he would have to pay child support and that “would be messed up too”.
Atkins has court-ordered visitation with this child, but Atkins’ ex refuses to follow the order alleging that Atkins has cut off any relationship with his daughter as soon as he found out that he was not the father, and now the child who is now 15 refuses to visit with Atkins. The judge it seems has refused to enforce the visitation order.
If you are in a similar situation and you either 1) know the child is not yours, or 2) suspect that the child is not yours, you should contact a family lawyer immediately to assess your next steps before it’s too late.