English and U.S. Common Law have recognized the importance of establishing the paternity of children. In the United States, a child born outside a legal marriage relationship will lose Child Support and inheritance rights if the fatherhood of the child is not legally established. The father may voluntarily acknowledge paternity in a legal document filed with a court or may agree to have his name listed as the father on the child’s birth certificate. If the man disputes fatherhood, the mother or the state government may initiate a legal proceeding, known as a paternity action, to adjudicate fatherhood.
The common law also established the “marital paternity presumption,” which holds that a child born during a marriage is the offspring of the husband. Therefore, a child born as a result of the wife’s adulterous affair is recognized as a legitimate child of the marriage. This rule recognized that Illegitimacy brought social stigma as well as severe economic penalties to a child, including the inability to inherit from the husband of the child’s mother. By establishing a presumption of paternity and therefore legitimacy, the rule promoted family stability and integrity.
This rule was developed at a time when no medical tests existed to prove paternity. In addition, a husband could not testify that he had no access to his wife at the time of conception. A husband could rebut the marital presumption only by proving his impotence or his absence from the country.
By the late nineteenth century, U.S. courts began to allow the defense of impossibility to rebut the marital presumption. The question of paternity became a fact that could be rebutted by clear and convincing evidence that procreation by the husband was impossible.
The Law Offices of Randy Kaye Garvey, P.A. can help you with these and other issues (within our areas of practice) that you may have.