Am I On the Hook for Child Support if I Didn’t Know I Had a Child?

Am I On the Hook for Child Support if I Didn’t Know I Had a Child? The popular online forum Reddit recently highlighted a post from a man facing an interesting personal and legal challenge, asking for advice and comments after he found out he was the father of a five-year-old boy. First, let’s look at the players in this story (names are all changed for anonymity):

  • Joe, the Reddit poster and biological father
  • Jane, Joe’s ex-girlfriend and mother of his child
  • Ted, Jane’s husband and Joe’s former roommate

Joe talked about his situation on Reddit, detailing that he and Jane broke up years ago after he caught her and Ted cheating together. He explained that he broke off all contact with her, Ted, and all mutual friends and moved away. Then, out of nowhere, Jane reached out to inform him that he was the father of her five-year-old son – and that she wanted child support.

His initial reaction was shock, and his next was suspicion. Noting that Jane contacted him right after he had posted on social media that he was newly engaged with a high-paying career, he assumed she was looking for money and lying, as she hadn’t ever mentioned a pregnancy or child before. He told Reddit, “I thought Jane was full of it because it had been six months between me catching her cheating and me moving away before changing my number, and years between then and now. Plenty of time for Jane to realize that she was pregnant and contact me about it, or even come after me for child support.”

Joe eventually got an attorney involved and much to his surprise, a paternity test revealed he actually was the boy’s biological father. He wrote, “[I] did a DNA test and I am the father, I agreed that child support was required and told Jane and Ted that I would have my lawyers send over details about payment and visitation.”

All’s well that ends well, right? Wrong. This is where things got even more complicated.

Jane and Ted informed Joe that, while child support was welcome and wanted, visitation was not. Because Jane and Ted chose to withhold visitation, Joe withdrew his offer of child support and informed them he would instead put money aside in a savings account for his son for which he could have access to when he turns eighteen. Jane and Ted were unhappy with this turn of events, calling Joe “selfish” for his actions.

Who is right here? Who is wrong? Is anyone?

Obligations and rights regarding child support and custody

Does Joe have an obligation to pay child support to a child he just found out about? In most cases, he would, but this is an unusual case – and here’s why. When Joe and Jane went their separate ways, Jane and Ted got married. And, when Jane gave birth, even though the baby was biologically Joe’s, Ted signed the birth certificate, making him the legal father.

This means Ted has all the rights and privileges afforded to him as a parent, and that includes making decisions about who can and can’t have contact with his son. If Ted and Jane don’t want Joe visiting their child, then they have the right to make that decision. However, they also can’t have it both ways. Because Joe is not the child’s legal father, Joe has zero obligation to pay child support.

Does Joe have any options regarding his newly-discovered son? Yes, he does.

Although he has already established biological paternity through a DNA test, Joe is still not the legal father of his own son. If he wants to file for child custody and visitation – and if Jane wants to file for child support – Joe will likely need establish paternity through the courts. Here in Tennessee, this is done through a “Petition to Establish Parentage” in the county where the mother, father, and/or child lives. Establishing paternity would give Joe’s son the following rights and benefits:

  • A relationship with both sides of the family
  • Knowledge of any family medical history
  • Right to medical insurance, inheritances, and child support

Establishing paternity would also put Joe’s name on his son’s birth certificate. Whether Jane and Ted would be amenable to this, of course, is another story altogether. However, this is likely the best way for Joe to have access to his child, unless the three adults can work together to find another way to support the boy – and in the end, all of this should be about the best interests of the child.

At the Law Offices of Adrian H. Altshuler & Associates, our family law attorneys want to help. Whether your family law matters involve divorce, child custody, child support, or other issues, we can provide informed and compassionate legal guidance. With over two decades of experience serving the people of Tennessee, we want to help get the best outcome possible for your case. Please feel free to call our offices today at 615-977-9370 or complete our contact form to schedule a consultation with an experienced lawyer. We serve clients in the Franklin, Columbia, and Brentwood areas.