What Is Paternity & Why Do You Need to Have it Confirmed?

Being a parent is an honor and something that many fathers cherish and look forward to in their lives. However, there are occasions where this is not the case. Occasionally, a father’s wishes don’t align with those of the child’s mother and the issue of paternity may play a role in the impending discussion of custody.

What Paternity Determines

A father’s name being present on a child’s birth certificate is no longer the only requirement to grant him parental rights in the state of New Mexico. A declaration (or acknowledgement) of paternity can alternatively be filed. This document works to give full parental rights over the children involved, allowing both parents the right to participate in the child’s life and have a voice in determining how to raise them. This document creates what is called a “presumption of paternity”, and ensures that a father is legally considered a father in the event of a future split with the child’s mother where custody becomes an issue or the death of the mother.

This presumption entitles fathers to exercise rights over their children, including decision-making, which is called “legal custody”. Additionally, being legally considered a child’s father helps ensure both parents involved will adhere to providing everyday support for the child, including child support in the event of separation. It further allows the child to be considered next of kin when the father passes.

Parental rights are also essential in the event of a divorce or separation and allow the father to maintain contact with, and access to, his child. It’s often beneficial for the child’s mother if the father of her child is legally recorded as their parent, as this will ensure that she receives financial support for the child in the event of a separation or divorce. In situations where the proposed parents of the child do not agree with who the father is, the situation can become more complicated.

Establishing Paternity When It’s Contested

There are a variety of situations where paternity may need to be established or denied. The most common situation involves a father who is simply not listed on the birth certificate or acknowledged as a child’s father. Often times, the father and other parent are able to coparent effectively without the need to establish paternity. A dispute arises in the event of a breakdown in the relationship of the parents, with one or the other either denying paternity or seeking to exploit the fact that a father’s paternity has not been established. In these cases, a paternity suit will need to be initiated with the Court.

Where a couple is married at the time of the child’s birth, it’s legally presumed that the husband is also the child’s father. This applies even if the couple divorce within a certain amount of time from the birth of the child. However, if the mother claims her husband is not the biological father of the child or there is a doubt as to paternity, paternity can be challenged and a request for DNA testing via a New Mexico court can be filed to determine the true paternity of the child in question. When a couple has a child outside of marriage, paternity can likewise be determined by voluntary or court-ordered paternity testing or without DNA testing.

New Mexico law establishes a variety of criteria that allow unmarried fathers to establish that they’re entitled to a presumption of paternity. These include where the child(ren) have been living with the father for a period of time and where the father has “held the child(ren) out” as his own biological children. A situation like this arises where a father believes himself to be a child’s father for a period of time and cares for the child as his own. In these circumstances, and other circumstances, it’s possible to object to DNA testing where doing so would deprive the father and child of the established parental relationship and work against the best interests of the child.

On the other hand, where a proposed father refuses to submit to DNA testing, a court may still determine he is the legal father of the child and hold him with the financial and legal responsibilities that accompany this role, including the need to pay child support. It’s important to remember that in New Mexico, a case to determine paternity can be filed at any point from the birth of a child until after they turn 18.

Parental Rights in New Mexico

New Mexico law has a strong preference for joint custody, believing it’s in the child’s best interest to maintain contact with both parents following a divorce and for both parents to be equally involved in decisions that will affect the child’s life. This extends to visitation with the father after divorce as it’s a commonly held belief that predictable and well-defined visitation periods with their father is in the child’s best interest.

When a father is acknowledged to be the legal parent of a child and enjoys the benefits from having equal parental rights with the mother, he’s able to play a more active role in the life of his child. This includes participating in daily activities and having joint responsibility for decisions that are made on behalf of the child. These rights are preserved in the event of a divorce or separation. Sometimes, however, fathers are deprived the opportunity to legally establish their paternity with their child(ren) right away.Conversely, sometimes the wrong father is listed on the birth certificate or men can find themselves trying to prove they are not a child’s father. In these cases, it’s important to contact an attorney who can help you establish or deny paternity.

When a divorcing couple, or an unmarried couple, are unable to agree on custody arrangements or visitation, it’s necessary to enlist the services of a law firm with experience in satisfying disputes related to child custody in New Mexico. At the Law Office of Dorene A. Kuffer, our team of attorneys will work with you to identify a practical solution that is in the best interest of the children involved. We’ll also take the needs, desires, and constraints of both parents into consideration. Our compassionate approach recognizes the sensitive nature of custody disputes and will help you to navigate these uncertain waters to reach a satisfactory outcome. Contact us to get started.