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Child Support Obligations When You Didn’t Know You Had a Child

Child Support Obligations When You Didn’t Know You Had a ChildA recent post on the online forum Reddit highlighted a rare, but fascinating, legal and personal conundrum for one father. The anonymous dad – we can call him “Joe” – posted on Reddit asking for advice after his ex-girlfriend “Jane” contacted him after years of no contact to inform him he was not only the father of a five-year-old, but that she also wanted child support for the boy. Joe was shocked by this information, as he had never heard any news of this child before.

As he told Reddit, Joe suspected Jane reached out all these years later after learning Joe was happily engaged, earning a high salary at a new job, and was likely interested in his new financial picture. Joe also disclosed the reason he and Jane ended their relationship was because Jane cheated on him with his friend and roommate “Ted.” After this discovery, Joe cut off contact with both of them, including their mutual friends, in an effort to move on with his life.

When Jane first messaged on social media to inform Joe that they had a five-year-old son together and wanted child support, he initially assumed she was lying. As he said, “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.”

However, after getting a family law attorney involved, a paternity test did reveal he indeed was the child’s biological father. At this point, Joe made the decision to provide child support and become a part of his child’s life. This is where things got complicated.

Jane and Ted married after Joe and Jane’s breakup, putting Ted’s name on the child’s birth certificate. This makes Ted the legal father, even though Joe is the biological father. When Joe agreed to pay child support in exchange for visitation, Ted and Jane balked – saying they do not want Joe to have any part of the boy’s life. In response, Joe has withdrawn his offer of child support and instead will save money for his son until he turns eighteen. As for Jane and Ted? They believe Joe is being “selfish.”

I just discovered I have a child. What are my rights and obligations in North Carolina?

What are Joe’s real obligations here? This is a complicated situation, and really depends on the wants and needs of everyone involved. The bottom line, however, is even though Joe is the biological father, Ted is the legal father, which means Ted has all the rights and privileges afforded by parenthood, including who can and cannot visit his child. If Ted does not want Joe to have contact with the child, then Ted has the right to make that decision.

However – and this may be what Ted and Jane are forgetting here – that also means that Joe has no financial obligation to the child, either, as Joe is not the legal parent. So, what are Joe’s options?

One possible solution, if Joe wants access to his biological son, is to establish paternity. Although Ted has established legal paternity by signing the birth certificate, Joe has established biological paternity through a DNA test after he found out (five years later) about the child. Now, Joe can go through the North Carolina courts to file a legitimation petition and, if he desires, a custody and visitation action.

Only then would Jane be eligible to file for child support.

What is a legitimation petition?

If a biological father has no legal ties to a child by marriage, North Carolina statute allows the father to file a legitimation petition to allow him the privileges, rights, and obligations afforded a “legitimate” child. After a child is legitimized, the father is eligible for custody and visitation, just like any other dad. The child is also eligible for any inheritances from the father.

Additionally, once a child is legitimized, the parents can update the child’s birth certificate and other vital records if desired. It is important to note that only a father can file a petition to legitimize. Our attorneys can explain more about this process and how to get it completed.

Looking back at Joe’s Reddit post, his best bet – if he wants to be involved in his son’s life – would be to legitimize his child and file a motion for custody and visitation, keeping all his bases covered. If that turns out to be impossible, as Joe would need Jane’s permission for some of these court actions, perhaps the three adults could work with an attorney or mediator to find a compromise. Do remember, however, all of this should be to protect the best interests of the child, both emotionally and financially.

Not every legal issue is black and white, and experienced attorneys can work with you to develop creative solutions that benefit your entire family. If you have questions about your unique circumstances, talk to the family law attorneys at Epperson Law Group, PLLC today. We provide you with the answers and information you need to make the right choices with your legal matters. To schedule a consultation with one of our dedicated lawyers, call 704-321-0031 or fill out our contact form today. We represent clients and families throughout Charlotte, Concord, Boone, and Weddington.