Presented by Susan F. Paikin
During the past 30 years, paternity establishment proceedings evolved from criminal to pure civil actions to user-friendly acknowledgements totally outside the judicial system. The national child support enforcement program created by Congress under Title IV-D of the Social Security Act has been the primary mechanism driving this change. On a parallel though interrelated track during these same decades, illegitimate children gained greater rights, and the role of nonmarital fathers matured in law, policy, and public discourse.
Paikin discussed the laws, policies and procedures for establishing paternity through voluntary paternity acknowledgments, by default orders, and after genetic testing. The first two methods allow for legal parentage to be established for a man who is not the child's biological parent (although this is not the intent of the policies), while inexpensive and widely available testing offers scientific certainty as to whether a man is or is not a child's genetic parent. Fanned by advocates and media coverage, a growing political, legal and societal discussion topic is how to respond to and balance the increased risk that paternity established by acknowledgment or default may be disestablished at a later time because the legally determined father is not the child's biological parent.
Changes in paternity establishment policy have overwhelmingly benefited children born outside of marriage. The federal requirements and financial support provided under the national child support enforcement program offers inexpensive, streamlined procedures by which legal fatherhood may be established both voluntarily and in contested cases. In FY 2004 alone, 1.6 million children had paternity either established or acknowledged. What is unknown is the level of parental discrepancies (i.e. a difference between who is the child's legal father and who is the child's biological father) created by these policies. The discussion explored whether the potential for a discrepancy between legal and biological parentage requires or recommends changing the voluntary paternity acknowledgement and default order laws and procedures (e.g. encouraging or mandating genetic testing before legal parentage may be established). The interests of children, legal and biological parents, the IV-D program and society were considered.