When a woman gives birth to a child – unless she carried another couple’s fertilized embryo to term – there’s no doubt she’s the biological mother, even if she chooses to relinquish parentage and give the infant up for adoption. However, as more unmarried couples have children, it’s not always clear who should have fatherly rights and responsibilities to a child. When the matter isn’t clarified, couples deprive the child of crucial support and set the stage for legal conflicts down the road. This article aims to delve into why it’s important to establish paternity in Colorado.
In This Guide:
- Why it’s Important to Establish Paternity
- The Benefits of Establishing Paternity
- How to Establish Paternity in Colorado
- Unmarried Fathers: How to Establish Paternity
- How to Contest Paternity in Colorado
- How to Start a Paternity Action
Are You Trying to Solve a Paternity Puzzle?
If you’re trying to establish or contest paternity, we strongly encourage you to seek legal guidance for this process. The Family Law Team at Robinson & Henry has experience handling paternity cases and is ready to listen and advise you on how best to proceed. Call 303-688-0944 for your free case assessment.
Why it’s Important to Establish Paternity
Paternity is defined as the quality or state of being a father. Legally establishing the identity of a child’s father benefits the father, mother, and especially the child.
When a child is born to a man and woman who are married, the husband is presumed to be the biological father. Situations do arise when this presumption can be challenged, but they are rare and require clear and convincing evidence.
When a child is conceived outside of marriage, the state makes no presumptions of paternity. Therefore, if the mother, child, and father are unable to receive certain benefits until paternity is established.
Who Can File a Paternity Suit?
A paternity suit can be initiated by the mother, the father, or even the child when she or he turns 18 years old. Any of the three may file a suit to establish the child’s biological father.
In certain situations, an outside party also could step in and initiate paternity proceedings, including:
- a personal representative of the child if he or she is 17 or younger
- any man who has a valid reason to believe he is the child’s father
- the Colorado Department of Human Resources
- local-level social services
A family law judge can order the potential father and child to take a DNA test, the results of which could legally establish or deny paternity. However, an affirmative DNA result isn’t always the last word in Colorado.
The Benefits of Establishing Paternity
Benefits for the Father
Any unwed man who believes that he and a woman conceived a child should establish paternity sooner rather than later, even if he’s in a harmonious and cooperative relationship with the mother.
Once paternity is established, the legally recognized father can enact his parental rights to ensure he receives parenting time should his relationship with the mother fall on bad terms. If he chooses, he can even file for custody to have more control over the child’s education, health care, and moral development.
However, in many cases, the father will also be responsible for paying child support as long as the mother retains primary physical custody of their child. It’s important to keep in mind that in Colorado a child support order is based on more than physical custody. The courts review each parent’s income, the number of overnights with the child, who pays for health insurance, and who pays for any child care.
Benefits for the Mother
Of course, a child’s mother should also wish to establish paternity. She may wish to receive child support payments to help pay for the child’s basic needs, as well as his or her education and medical care. Child support cannot be ordered until the state legally identifies the father.
Even mothers who wish to give their infant child up for adoption should seek to establish paternity as soon as possible. In Colorado, a mother cannot legally give her baby up for adoption without the consent of the father.
Benefits for the Child
In addition to receiving child support, a child may be eligible for coverage under the father’s health insurance. If the father is a military veteran, the child could be eligible for certain veteran and disability benefits as a dependent.
Those are just the tangible benefits. The child will also benefit from having a fatherly mentor and role model, along with two parents to bond with. This could prove far more valuable to the child in the long run.
How to Establish Paternity in Colorado
The Colorado Children’s Code, specifically the Uniform Parentage Act, CO Rev Stat § 19-4-105 (2016), lays out statutory guidelines for presuming or establishing paternity in the Centennial State.
It begins with these six presumptions of paternity:
- The man is or was married to the mother, and the child was born during the marriage;
- The man attempted to marry the mother before the child was born, and the child was born during the attempted marriage (the distinction ‘attempted’ applies to marriages that were later annulled);
- The man married, or attempted to marry, the mother after the birth of the child, and has acknowledged in a written filing to the court that he is the father;
- While the child is under the age of 18, the man accepts the child into his home and considers himself the father (this applies to step fathers);
- The man acknowledges paternity in a written filing with the court; and
- The results of a DNA paternity test show that the man is the probable father with at least a 97 percent or higher certainty.
None of these six presumptions can be challenged without clear and convincing evidence. Also, once paternity has been established under one or more of these presumptions, it is practically ironclad.
Unmarried Fathers: How to Establish Paternity
When couples have children outside of marriage, the state makes no legal presumption regarding the identity of the father. This leaves it up to unwed men to establish legal paternity on their own so they can enact their parental rights.
In Colorado, there are three ways to establish paternity:
The easiest way for an unwed man to establish paternity of a child is to file a Voluntary Acknowledgment of Paternity or AOP. The form must be signed by both parents, and it must clearly state that the man is the child’s biological father.
The unwed parents can sign the form in front of a witness at either the hospital or birthing facility where the child was born or at the Office of Vital Records and Statistics. Once signed and filed, the AOP establishes the man as the legal father of the child and adds his name to the birth certificate.
Once 60 days have passed since the signing of the AOP, neither parent can revoke it without a court action.
Administrative Paternity Order
An administrative order establishes a man as the father of a child without involving the courts.
Such an order is often issued after one of the parents applies for child support through the state, which will then conduct a proceeding to determine paternity. Both the mother and assumed father receive notice of the proceedings and may respond. They can also provide additional information or request genetic testing.
Once all issues have been resolved, an administrative order of paternity is issued.
Judicial Paternity Order
This is when it takes a court action to determine the father of a child and usually is the result of a paternity suit.
During a hearing, both the mother and possible father (or fathers) will submit information to the judge overseeing the case, and the judge makes a ruling to establish paternity.
How to Contest Paternity in Colorado
Paternity suits are not always filed to affirm parentage. Sometimes it is necessary for a man to contest whether he is the biological father, especially if he has reason to suspect he’s not.
The only way for a presumed father to clear himself of legal obligations to a child is to undergo a paternity DNA test. Because modern testing can determine biological paternity with up to 99.9 percent accuracy, they are the primary and indisputable method of establishing or challenging paternity in court.
Who Contests Paternity?
Typically, a motion to contest paternity is filed by an alleged father in response to a paternity suit filed by the biological mother in an effort to collect child support or other benefits.
Paternity can also be challenged by another man claiming to be the biological father if the mother had more than one sexual partner when she conceived the child. Even the government can step in and contest alleged paternity if it suspects that fraud is taking place.
No matter who brings the paternity suit, the alleged father has the right to contest it.
Challenging Established Paternity
Once a presumed father has obtained legal paternity, it is almost impossible to overturn or revoke. It can be challenged with clear and convincing evidence, but only within 60 days of the established paternity.
In special cases when paternity might have been obtained by mistake, neglect, or fraud, Colorado allows a wider time frame of 182 days, or six months, to consider any challenges. Once that time has elapsed, it really is difficult to challenge paternity.
Let’s take a quick look at a Colorado Supreme Court case that demonstrates just how ironclad paternity can be once it’s established.
People v. R.L.C (Colorado, 2002)
An unwed woman became pregnant after consensual sex with a man (R.L.C). Before giving birth, the woman went to court to establish the man’s paternity so she could receive child support. The man stipulated he was the father and agreed to pay child support without submitting to any blood tests.
The father paid child support for 11 years to a daughter he’d never met. One day, the mother sent the father a picture of the girl. After studying the photo, the man began to suspect that he was not the child’s biological father and filed a motion for genetic testing using a provision (Mistakes; Inadvertence; Surprise; Excusable Neglect; Fraud; etc.) under the Colorado Rules of Civil Procedure (C.R.C.P 60) as his legal basis.
Motion Denied, then Reversed
The district court denied the father’s request for genetic testing on the basis that C.R.C.P 60 allows challenges to material mistakes of fact only for six months, and statutes governing paternity testing (C.R.S 19-4-105 (2)(c)) did not allow such tests once a judgment of paternity is issued.
The Colorado Court of Appeals reversed the district court’s denial, holding that state laws mandate genetic testing be conducted by request of the court or any interested party. The appellate court also asserted that the original judgment of paternity had been based on a mistake that only a genetic test could correct.
The Final Say
The Colorado Supreme Court quickly reversed the appellate court’s decision and remanded the case back to the district level after upholding its original ruling.
In addition to standing by the six-month statute of limitations in C.R.C.P 60 and the clear language in C.R.S § 19-4-105(2)(c) that there can be no genetic testing once a court has determined paternity, the Supreme Court held:
“ … it would not be in the best interests of the child to now conduct genetic testing that might reveal that the person that she believed to be her father was not her father and that would deprive her of financial support, particularly when no contention had been made as to who else might be the child’s father.” — People v. R.L.C., 47 P.3d 327, 328, 2002 Colo.
How to Start a Paternity Action
Colorado uses a district court system with one district court holding jurisdiction over several counties. District courts have the authority to decide paternity cases.
Where to File a Paternity Action in Colorado
A paternity case should be started in the district court for the county where the child or alleged father resides or where public benefits are being paid on the child’s behalf.
If you don’t know which district court to file, it’s best to contact your county courthouse for direction.
Denver County Exception
If the child or alleged father resides in Denver County, the paternity action can be filed at the Denver Juvenile Court.
When Can a Paternity Suit be Filed?
A suit to establish paternity can be started anytime between the day of the child’s birth and the child’s 18th birthday. The child has until his or her 21st birthday to bring a suit.
The Judge Decides
The judge has the authority to consider all the facts and make a final ruling to either issue or deny paternity. It does not matter if the parents signed a voluntary acknowledgment of paternity, or even if genetic tests have conclusively identified the biological father. The judge’s ruling holds sway.
The judge can make additional orders for:
- health insurance for the child
- child support
- who shall have physical and legal custody of the child
- visitation or parenting time for the non-custodial parent
- payment of court costs
- payment of genetic testing fees
Establish Paternity with the Help of a Paternity DNA Lawyer
Paternity matters often look simple on the surface, but they’re not. The legal process for establishing or contesting paternity can be intense, especially if one party in the matter isn’t cooperating. An experienced Family Law attorney can help the process go a lot smoother by compelling cooperation from reluctant parties and preparing you for each step in the process. There’s an easier way to do it. Don’t take the hard way. Call 303-688-0944 for your free case assessment.