Committed to protecting the rights of parents across York, Lancaster, and Chester Counties
If you have acted as a parent to a child in every sense of the word, learning that you may not be the biological father can be devastating. Even more so is when you learn that your right to remain in the child's life can suddenly be jeopardized. If you are suddenly facing a custody battle for a child you love, or have discovered that you are supporting a child who is not yours, Holland Law is here to help. Contact the firm in Rock Hill or Fort Mill to learn more.
How South Carolina views legal fatherhood
In South Carolina, a husband is presumed to be the legal father of any child born during his marriage. According to the South Carolina Center for Fathers and Families, half of all children in South Carolina are born out of wedlock. For those 50% of unmarried fathers, proving paternity may be the only way to ensure access to their children.
Do I need a lawyer to establish paternity in South Carolina?
A man may initiate, or agree to voluntarily submit to, paternity testing. While hiring a lawyer to establish paternity isn't required, the most important thing you can do to protect your rights is to hire a knowledgeable paternity dispute attorney.
Whether you are embroiled in a bitter custody battle or not, you do have legal options available to you. Failing to hire an attorney who can educate you on the pros and cons of establishing legal paternity may put you at a severe disadvantage with the mother, your potential child, your family, and even your employer.
Can I contest paternity?
You can. Even when you accept parental responsibility under the belief that you are the child's biological father, paternity can always be contested. Under South Carolina Code 63-17-50, paternity may be contested based on fraud, duress, or material mistake of fact. Generally, paternity can be contested when you are establishing:
- Child support. When a mother seeks child support from the putative father, paternity needs to be established if the father contests his legal status.
- Child custody and visitation rights. Often times when a father has been attempting to participate in his child's life, or is even paying child support voluntarily, the mother may cut off or limit the amount of time he's permitted to spend with his child. Without legally establishing paternity, a father has no legal standing to enforce visitation. If circumstances dictate a change in child custody, he has no legal right to pursue that either.
- Inheritance rights. Unless and until a father legally establishes paternity, his child cannot inherit from his or his family members' estates any more than he could stand to inherit from his child's estate. Sometimes it's just a matter of wanting to be officially acknowledged by the family while others involve a substantial share of an estate that rightfully belongs to the child or parent.
Proving paternity is important for many reasons
- To establish benefits for a child: Health or life insurance, public assistance, Social Security, and veterans' benefits can all be collected by family members.
- The mother becomes unfit or dies. You are immediately at risk of losing your child to the foster care system or even the child's grandparents, should they look to become the child's legal guardians.
- To obtain a family health history. Does your family have a history of diabetes or other debilitating disease that requires early screening and prevention? Without that knowledge, your child's chances of becoming ill during his or her lifetime increases. Knowing what to screen for can reduce or eliminate serious health issues down the road that can affect his or her life.
How do I establish paternity?
As previously mentioned, paternity is automatic if the child was born during your marriage. Your name will be entered on the birth certificate, which you sign, and no further action is required. Even when not married to the mother, if your name is entered on the birth certificate and you sign it, you are legally the child's father.
Genetic testing may be court ordered, including under S.C. Code Section 63-17-30 (A) when paternity is contested. Evidence the court may take into consideration in establishing paternity under S.C. Code Section 63-17-60 includes:
- Results of a verified genetic test from a qualified testing facility, including results showing a statistical probability of parentage.
- Refusal to submit to court ordered genetic testing.
- A verified voluntary acknowledgment of paternity.
- An expert's opinion as to time of conception.
Termination of parental rights in Rock Hill or Fort Mill
Under certain circumstances the parties may decide that it is in the child's best interests to file a petition to terminate a parent's parental rights. Most often, this happens when a foster parent, step-parent, or other guardian wishes to adopt your child. Other reasons include:
- Incarceration of the parent. It may be necessary to terminate parental rights if the parent is going to serve a substantial amount of time in prison and will be unable to contribute to the financial support of the child. If one parent needs to apply for various forms of financial assistance during the child's life, terminating the other parent's rights may make that process easier.
- Immigration status of the parent. If the child's parent is a legal citizen of another country and intends to return home after a divorce, or is facing deportation, it may be in the child's best interest to terminate that parent's parental rights.
- Cases of domestic abuse. While the courts are bound to make decisions in the best interest of the children, the laws often have loopholes which allow abusers to see their children. Terminating the parental rights of a father or a mother may be the way to ensure the safety of the child.
The termination of parental rights is a decision not to be taken lightly. You will have no legal right to information about your child, to make decisions about your child, or to see your child. Terminating your parental rights also severs the legal relationship between your extended family members and your child. You should only make the choice after being advised in full about your legal rights, and what you stand to lose.
Termination of parental rights as a means to avoid child support
A word of caution about viewing termination of parental rights as a means to eliminate a child support obligation:
As a matter of public policy, barring certain exceptions, courts tend not to grant the request, because it's in a child's best interest to have two parents contributing financially to his or her care. The state opposes placing a single parent in the position of relying on public assistance.
Respectfully preserving the rights of South Carolina parents
As a single father, I understand the importance of knowing your legal options. At Holland Law, you will receive all of the information you need to determine your best course of legal action for your situation. If you are facing complications related to paternity in York, Lancaster, or Chester County, schedule your consultation in either my Fort Mill office on Gold Hill Road, or in my Rock Hill office on Oakland Avenue, by calling 803-676-1128, or reach out to me through my contact page to tell me your story.