Q: How do you establish paternity in Ohio?
A: If a child is born to a woman who is married, the husband is presumed to be the father. This presumption may be overcome, however, in an administrative proceeding and/or a lawsuit to determine the father-child relationship, either as part of a divorce action or by a separate action in juvenile court. When there are conflicting presumptions (e.g., a genetic test finding), the court must determine paternity.
If the mother is unmarried when the child is born, paternity must be determined through a Child Support Enforcement Agency or a juvenile court action, although the administrative proceeding must be started first. Both administrative and judicial proceedings provide ways to obtain genetic testing that may eventually result in court orders for child support. The father may also establish paternity on the 8 ½” X 14” “brown” form available through the local Child Support Enforcement Agency if both parents acknowledge the father's paternity under oath. Only one of these two methods would give the father standing to request parenting time or other custodial rights. Fathers frequently sign the brown form to establish paternity while at the hospital after the baby's birth. To confirm that this has been done and to obtain a copy, call the Central Paternity Registry in Columbus, Ohio (1-888-810-6446).
Q: I'm not married to my child’s mother, but I signed the birth certificate. Must I also acknowledge paternity on the “brown” form?
A: Before the law changed on January 1, 1998, signing the birth certificate was enough to indicate your responsibility as the child’s father and to allow a child support order to be made against you, but it was not an otherwise binding determination of paternity. Now, a man who is not married to the mother of his child cannot sign a birth certificate unless the mother and father acknowledge paternity under oath on the “brown” form. A father who wants to establish a parent-child relationship and/or to pursue rights regarding custody, parenting time and/or support (including health insurance and tax exemptions) should consult an attorney to begin a paternity proceeding (see above regarding administrative proceeding) and request genetic testing to establish the parent-child relationship.
Q: When should DNA testing be used?
A: Even when a man is sure the child is his, he should obtain a DNA test as soon as possible. DNA testing can be done easily by drawing blood or by swabbing some skin tissue from the inside of the mouth. The Supreme Court of Ohio made it clear that, if a determination of the father-child relationship has already been made, a person cannot come back later and say, “I'm not the dad,” or “He’s not the dad,” even though a DNA test proves what that person says. The person first determined by administrative or court proceeding to be the father continues to be responsible for supporting the child, regardless of the fact that a DNA test has shown someone else to be the natural father. This obligation continues unless BOTH parties agree to modify the earlier court order.
On January 25, 2002, however, the law changed to allow motions for relief from such judgments to be filed even after orders finding paternity have been entered (Ohio Revised Code, Section 3119.961). For example, some paternity findings now can be overturned by a new genetic test that proves a person is not the child’s father. If a paternity finding is overturned, however, it only relieves the person from paying child support beginning from the time the motion is filed. It does not address issues of past unpaid child support or the return of support money already paid.
Q: Where do I go to have paternity established?
A: You can use the resources of your local county’s Child Support Enforcement Agency or you can use an independent laboratory. However, remember that a positive genetic test does not establish paternity. Paternity can only be determined administratively or through a court order. Therefore, a juvenile court filing is usually necessary.
Q: Are there other reasons to have paternity legally established?
A: Yes. A legally recognized father has rights to parenting time (formerly known as visitation), and he is entitled to equal access (equal to the mother’s) to his child’s school, medical and day care records and activities. Also, once paternity is legally established, the biological father can prevent the child from being adopted by another person without his consent or from being moved away from the jurisdiction without a hearing. “Putative” (presumed) fathers who want to be involved with their children should seek legal advice as soon as possible.
This "Law You Can Use" legal information column was provided by the Ohio State Bar Association (OSBA). It was prepared by Karen Riestenberg Brinkman, a Cincinnati attorney, mediator, collaborative family lawyer and secretary of the OSBA Family Law Committee.