Parents have many rights and responsibilities when it comes to their children. For some fathers, establishing a legal relationship with a child they believe to be their own can be a challenging task. In other situations, a man may deny paternity to avoid the legal, financial or emotional obligations that come along with that role.
At the Portland family law firm of Gearing Rackner & McGrath, LLP, we represent both men and women in Oregon paternity proceedings. As experienced family law attorneys, we understand the concerns that can arise on both sides in contested paternity cases. Having extensive experience in all types of Oregon divorce law, our knowledgeable team of advocates can efficiently guide you through the system towards your desired outcome, whatever it may be. Having served clients across Oregon and Washington for the past 15 years, we understand that our clients often need more than just an attorney, but someone to support them through the myriad challenges presented by a separation or divorce, including Portland paternity issues.
Proving Paternity in Oregon
Paternity refers to the area of law surrounding a man’s legal relationship to his children, and also deals with the rights and responsibilities of both the father and child. While paternity by its very nature, focuses on the relationship between a man and his children, mothers are also impacted by paternity law, as paternity may be the basis for the receipt of child support, visitation rights or inheritance. In short, once paternity is established, the father gains rights related to custody and visitation and obligations related to the support of the child, and the child gains the right to inherit from the father and receive governmental benefits based on his earnings.
In Oregon, paternity can be presumed from the circumstances or established through a court proceeding. Below is a list of the various ways in which paternity can be proven:
- If a child is born during a marriage, the husband will be presumed to be the child’s father;
- If a child is born within 300 days of the termination of a marriage by death, annulment, divorce, or legal separation, the husband is rebuttably presumed to be the father
- If a child is born to unmarried parents, and the parents later marry, they can sign a notarized “Voluntary Acknowledgment of Paternity” form;
- If an unmarried father agrees to paternity, both parents can sign a “Voluntary Acknowledgment of Paternity” at the hospital or birthing center when the child is born, or have the form notarized if the father is not present for the child’s birth;
- If there is no agreement on paternity, either the mother, the father or the state of Oregon can establish paternity through a court proceeding.
The simplest, and most common, way that paternity is shown is through an existing relationship between the mother and father. A man who are married to the mother of a child when the child is born is presumed to be that child’s father. Similarly, if a child is born within 300 days of a marriage ending in divorce, death, annulment or separation will also be rebuttably presumed to be the husband’s child. However, this presumption of paternity in both cases can be challenged, by either the mother of the putative father. To do so, a party must file an Oregon paternity case.
When paternity is challenged, the most common way to resolve the dispute is through DNA testing. A DNA test requires a blood sample from the putative father. If the test shows that there is a 99 percent chance that the man is the father, the court will find that the man is the child’s father. In some cases, paternity can be established through documentary or testimonial evidence, meaning through physical evidence and witness testimony, without genetic testing. However, given the availability and accuracy of DNA testing, these cases are the exception.
Once a court makes a decision in a paternity case, that finding is final. However, there are a few exceptions:
- A party has 60 days to request a father’s name be removed from a birth certificate after signing a Voluntary Acknowledgement of Paternity (more time is available if the request is based on fraud, duress or a material mistake);
- A party who signed a Voluntary Acknowledgement of Paternity has one year to request genetic testing if it was not performed;
- If paternity was established through a court order, a party has one year to ask the court to set aside its finding based on mistake, inadvertence, surprise or excusable neglect; and
- If paternity was established by a court order, a party has one year to move to set aside the judgment based on fraud, misrepresentation or conduct of an adverse party, the moving party has one year from the date they discovered the fraud, misrepresentation or other misconduct.
Establishing paternity can be straightforward in some cases; however, in others it can be a complicated and adversarial process. At Gearing, Rackner & McGrath, LLP, our experienced team of Portland divorce lawyers dutifully represent clients in all types of paternity proceedings. With over 15 years of experience helping clients across Oregon and Southwest Washington, we have the knowledge, dedication and skill you need to feel comfortable through this challenging process.
Why Pursue a Portland Paternity Case?
The reasons behind a Portland paternity case vary, and often depend on which party is seeking to establish paternity. In Oregon, a paternity case can be originated by a mother, putative father or the state.
Mothers who give birth to a child while they are not married to the child’s father may need to pursue a petition if the father denies paternity. A mother may pursue a paternity petition for several reasons, including for the payment of child support. Additionally, once paternity is established, the child will be considered the father’s heir and may be eligible for inheritance. When a mother files a paternity case, the father will have 30 days to respond. If the father does not respond in that timeframe, he will automatically be declared the father.
Men who believe that they are the father of a child may file a Portland paternity petition to obtain visitation rights, and other important legal rights related to the child’s care. Of course, these petitions can be contested by the child’s mother.
Finally, the State of Oregon can also pursue a finding of paternity. Typically, the state will file a paternity case in one of two situations:
1. To reimburse the state for state medical or welfare benefits that were paid to the mother or child; or
2. Because the mother is not currently living with the father, and the mother has asked the state to establish paternity on behalf of a child.
In either case, the state will serve the putative father a form entitled “Notice and Finding of Financial Responsibility.” At this point, the man will be presumed to be the father, and will require the man to pay child support, provide medical health insurance and take a genetic test, if necessary. A man can object to this presumption by requesting a hearing.
When a party contests paternity, the court must order a hearing. At the hearing, the court will consider any genetic testing that was conducted, as well as hear additional evidence from each party. Typically, the parties will present the following evidence:
- Statements from both parties regarding their relationship at the time of conception;
- Whether the mother had more than one partner during the time around when the child was conceived;
- Whether the putative father had ever previously admitted to being the child’s parent;
- Whether the putative father acted as though the child was his after the child was born; and
- Whether the child strongly resembles the father.
If the court determines that the man is the child’s father, the court will then go on to determine other related issues. For example, the court may award child support, order the father to pay for the child’s health insurance or outstanding medical bills, and may determine child custody and visitation issues, as well.
Schedule a Consultation with an Oregon Paternity Attorney
If you are in the process of establishing paternity in Oregon, or are considering doing so but need more information, contact one of the dedicated Oregon family law attorneys at Gearing, Rackner & McGrath, LLP. As committed divorce attorneys, we have extensive experience handling all types of Portland family law issues, including paternity matters, child support determinations and child custody issues. To learn more about how our award-winning attorneys can help you with your situation, call us at 503-222-9116 or contact us through our online form to learn more about how we can help.