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Can I challenge paternity in a child custody case?

Establishing the paternity of a child is crucial to assigning personal and financial responsibilities for the child. For example, if you have been determined to be the father of a child, then you will be legally entitled to petition for custody or visitation rights. Alternatively, you will also be responsible for personally taking care of the child or providing the child's custodial parent with child support.

There are two ways to establish paternity under Maryland law. You can choose to voluntarily claim parentage of the child, accomplished by signing a form document called an Affidavit of Parentage. The signing of this form will allow the father's name to be placed on the child's birth certificate. The second way of establishing paternity is for the court to order that you to submit to genetic testing. That test will reveal either that you share DNA with the child or exclude you as a possible parent.

In some rare cases, fathers who have voluntarily signed the Affidavit of Parentage later discover reasons to question their parentage of the child. In those cases, Maryland law permits a father to rescind or cancel the Affidavit of Parentage within 60 days of when both parents signed the document. If the document was signed separately, the court counts from the date when the last parent penned their signature.

After the 60-day period has expired, the only way for a father to nullify the Affidavit of Parentage is by means of obtaining a court order. This can be a very difficult task to accomplish. Maryland law only allows nullification in rare cases involving fraud, duress or material mistake of fact.

If you are a Maryland father who would like to challenge paternity in a child custody matter, then you should know that time is of the essence. Once the court has determined that you are the father, you could potentially have your wages garnished, have your licenses stripped from you and even be jailed for failure to pay child support. Therefore, if you suspect that the parentage of a child is not your responsibility, then you should act quickly to preserve your legal rights.

Source: Maryland Department of Human Services, "Child Support Enforcement Administration- Paternity Establishment" Sep. 03, 2014

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