“LAW IN YOUR LIFE”
With Brandi Byrd, Attorney, The Copeland Law Firm, Columbia
Question 1...Why is paternity still a legal issue? With DNA testing, don’t we know for sure who the father of a child is?
Question 2...What’s the best route? For the man to request that DNA evidence and resolution or for the woman to do that?
Question 3...If a man fathers a child, what sort of legal responsibilities does he have?
Question 4...We’ve talked about a man finding out through DNA that he’s the father, what are the consequences that a woman and child face if the woman doesn’t determine legally who the father is?
Question 5...What if DNA testing reveals that a man is not the father of t hat child?
Question 6...What is your advice to any woman who is unmarried and ready to have a child?
Question 7...If someone has questions about paternity, the legal side of paternity, where should they go first?
Text Transcript of Audio Interview
Shelley Tucker: Welcome to Law in Your Life, a Missouri Bar podcast for the public. I’m Shelley Tucker. Our guest is Brandi Byrd, an attorney with the Copeland Law Firm in Columbia and we’re discussing paternity issues. Brandi, we’re talking about paternity. Why is paternity still a legal issue? With DNA testing don’t we know for sure who the father of a child is?
Brandi Byrd: We may know for sure who the father is but paternity is still a legal issue because it’s not necessarily enough to show through DNA that he is the father. He won’t have legal rights to the child until he is legally established as the father of the child. So if the parties are married at the time of the birth or at the time of conception then there’s a legal presumption that he’s the father and he has those rights. But when you have a case where the parties are not married then the father does not have those same legal rights until he is legally established as the child’s father by some means. By the same token, he also doesn’t have the responsibilities that he would otherwise have so it’s in the child’s best interests and the mother’s too and the father’s as well to have him legally established as the father through a paternity action or if they are in agreement, then by an affidavit acknowledging paternity in order to ensure that the child is supported.
Shelley Tucker: What’s the best route? For the man to request that DNA evidence and resolution or for the woman to do that?
Brandi Byrd: Well it really depends on the particular facts of the case. If the father is wanting to ensure that he’s got those rights, then I would suggest that he go ahead and move to get this legally established. But if the father’s kind of wanting out of the picture and the mother wants to make sure that he’s responsible for supporting the child, then she’s probably going to be the one that does that.
Shelley Tucker: If a man fathers a child what sort of legal responsibilities does he have then?
Brandi Byrd: He has a duty to support the child, to provide for the child’s basic needs and care and this is going to include things that we generally call child support but more specifically may or may not include things like health insurance and other costs. It really depends on the particular facts of the case. He may also be required to pay for some of the costs of prenatal care, birthing expenses, retroactive support depending on when that order is made, things like that. Again, it’s all dependent upon the particular facts of the case.
Shelley Tucker: We talked about a man finding out through DNA that he is the father. What are the consequences that a woman and child face if the woman doesn’t determine legally who the father is?
Brandi Byrd: Well this really depends again on the facts of the case. For the mom the consequences are going to be being a single parent, supporting the child on her own, raising the child on her own without another parent in the picture -- of course yshe may have other people in her life, may move on and get into a relationship with someone else who takes that child on. But there’s definitely the potential there to be a single parent, which is not going to be easy. In some situations it may be better for her and for the child to do that. If the mother is not able to support the child on her own and she ends up asking for public aid or assistance, she’s likely going to have to be required to reveal the father’s identity anyway because they’re going to want to recoup some of the money that’s paid because it’s really a parent’s job first and foremost to support a child. As far as the child is considered, what I would say really matters here: children are the true innocents in these situations and that’s why it’s the court’s main goal to do what’s in the best interests of the child, sometimes even to the detriment of the parent. Legally speaking, if the father is not determined, the child loses the support that that father would otherwise provide, including possibly health insurance coverage, etc. The child also loses the right to inherit from the father, things like that. Practically speaking, and more importantly in a lot of cases, assuming the father is not legally determined and not otherwise in the picture, then the child loses the relationship that he would otherwise have with his father and even the father’s extended family. The reality is that this child is going to have questions about that as the child gets older.
Shelley Tucker : What if DNA testing reveals that a man is not the father of that child?
Brandi Byrd: In circumstances where the parties were not married and the father has not otherwise acknowledged paternity, then as long as there has not otherwise been a legal determination if he is the father, then that’s going to be evidence to support his claim that he’s not and that he should not be responsible for that child. I’m sure we’ve all heard of the extreme circumstances where a father is determined as the legal father , then years and years later, it’s found out that he was not genetically or biologically the father of that child but was still responsible. There are actually some things going on to change certain laws and kind of change the outcomes of those situations. But that’s something that’s still going on right now. For the most part, if there has been no order and he’s determined through DNA that he’s not the father, then he’s probably not going to be responsible for the support of that child. Now that doesn’t mean that he might not choose to support that child -- this may be a situation where he wants to be the father anyway and just because he’s not biologically the father doesn’t mean that he and that woman cannot agree that he will practically speaking be that child’s father and take that responsibility on legally as well.
Shelley Tucker : What’s your advice to any woman who is unmarried and ready to have a child?
Brandi Byrd: This is really a question that comes down more to personal morals and ethics than to a legal question. I’ll defer to the woman’s personal decisions based on her specific situation for the most part. But from a legal standpoint I definitely would not advise getting married for the sole purpose of having a child. If you have someone you want to co-parent with and you don’t necessarily want to be married to that person I would just advise that they both seek a legal determination of the father to protect mom, to protect dad and to protect baby. On the other hand there may be a woman who just wants to be a single parent and if she’s in a position where she feels that she’s better suited to become pregnant through a method like artificial insemination, that’s her choice, and she may not have to worry about things like co-parenting, and sharing custody, but she’s also going to face raising the child on her own and answering the child’s questions as the child gets older. Another woman may be in a position where she’s not able to support the child on her own and that’s going to leave her with a few more ethical and moral considerations and decisions to make. But, again, if she asks for support later and became pregnant through more conventional means and knows who the father is, then she will likely be required to reveal the father’s identity if she does seek public aid or assistance. My best advice to a woman who is unmarried and ready to become a mother is to think about her situation, whether she wants to be single, a single parent or co-parent with someone else and most importantly to think about the child and what’s going to be best for the child in his her future.
Shelley Tucker: If someone has questions about the legal side of paternity, where should they go first?
Brandi Byrd: Well they’re going to want to find a family law attorney who deals with paternity. There are resources through The Missouri Bar; you can Google that; You can look in the yellow pages; or you could go to The Missouri Bar web site and search for an attorney. I do believe the Missouri Bar has that LawyerSearch online database. There’s also The Missouri Bar Lawyer Referral Service. They can contact The Missouri Bar to be directed toward a family law attorney
Shelley Tucker : Our guest has been Brandi Byrd, an attorney with the Copeland Law Firm in Columbia. The Law in Your life provides general information about the law for the public. For your specific legal needs remember you can only get legal advice from your attorney. We hope you’ve enjoyed this segment. If you have any suggestions for future pod cast topics let us know at mobar.org. I’m Shelley Tucker for The Missouri Bar and the Law in Your Life.