Recognizing Paternity Fraud and Its Consequences

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​Misattributed paternity can be devastating for men who have spent years believing they are biologically tied to a child, only to later learn that they actually share no DNA. Paternity fraud causes immense emotional pain and turmoil, affecting the biological father, the non-biological father, the mother, and the child at the center of it. Also, victims of misattributed paternity may have been paying child support for years.

Once the truth is revealed, it is rarely a simple matter to be reimbursed for those payments. Here's how paternity fraud happens and what you can do if you've been paying child support for a child you did not father.

What Is Paternity Fraud?

Paternity fraud occurs when the mother of a child misidentifies a man as the biological father of their child. Sometimes, the mother knows that the man is not biologically linked to the child. In other cases, they may not know for sure or only suspect that the child is not genetically linked to the father they named on the birth certificate.

How Does Paternity Fraud Happen?

Paternity fraud generally happens when a man is asked to sign an affidavit of paternity for a child with whom they share no biological connection. Presumably, in such cases, it is the mother who is urging the man to sign the affidavit or birth certificate form. The issue is then complicated when the state uses that affidavit or birth certificate as proof of paternity in a child support case, instead of ordering an actual ​DNA test before assigning child support.

In some states, paternity fraud also happens through a process known as "the presumption of paternity." This happens when a person is designated by the state as the child's biological father simply because they and the mother were married at the time of the child's birth or conception.

An actual law in some states, the presumption of paternity causes some men to pay child support on behalf of children they are not related to—in some cases, even long after the misattributed paternity is apparent.

When Paternity Fraud Is Revealed

Paternity fraud often goes undetected for years. Sometimes, it comes to light after medical records reveal that the child cannot possibly be related to the man attributed as the biological father.

In cases where paternity fraud has resulted in child support payments, the court is left to decide whether those payments should continue. While it seems on the surface that the obvious answer is "no," the court's focus is always on the best interests of the child. As such, the court may:

  • Cease further child support payments, or
  • Order a continuation of child support payments

Paternity Fraud's Impact on Child Support

A court may order a father who is not the biological parent of a child to continue child support payments because:

  • Continued child support payments serve the best interests of the child.
  • The child still needs to be supported and the court believes the child may require government assistance if child support payments cease.
  • The father has supported the child for a period of time and has acted as the child's father.

Help for Victims of Paternity Fraud

Men who are victims of paternity fraud should attempt to seek action in civil court to collect child support funds back from the child's parent Unfortunately, reimbursement is generally considered a long shot.

Consequences of Paternity Fraud

Unfortunately, there are currently no legal consequences for mothers who commit paternity fraud. Paternity fraud is not considered a punishable crime, and it's extremely difficult to collect or recollect funds from the child's mother.

A Word From Verywell

If you suspect that a person you are or were involved with has committed paternity fraud, consider seeking a DNA test immediately. (These can be ordered online, but a lawyer experienced in these matters may be able to advise you on which ones will stand up in court.) Parents looking for more information about child support should refer to the specific child support guidelines for their state.

Because the child's parent may have intended the deception, it is highly unlikely you will be able to resolve the issue on your own. Make sure to speak with a qualified attorney experienced in resolving paternity fraud and obtaining reimbursement for past child support.

3 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Draper H. Paternity fraud and compensation for misattributed paternityJ Med Ethics. 2007;33(8):475‐480. doi:10.1136/jme.2005.013268

  2. Apetrei I. The reevaluation of paternity presumptions in the current civil code. Procedia Soc Behav Sci. 2014;149:54–58. doi:10.1016/j.sbspro.2014.08.189

  3. Child Welfare Information Gateway. Children's Bureau ACYF/ACF/HHS. The rights of unmarried fathers.

By Debrina Washington
Debrina Washington is a New York-based family law attorney and writer, who runs her own virtual practice to assist single parents with legal issues.