Paternity and Child Support Notices
Authored By: Iowa Legal Aid
- Read this in:
- Spanish / Español
How do I become the legal father or establish my "paternity" of a child?
The term for becoming the legal father of a child is called "establishing paternity." In Iowa, there are three ways for you to become the legal father of a child. First, if you are married to the child's mother when the child is born, you are automatically the legal father of the child. This is true whether or not you are the natural or biological father. Second, if no one is already the legal father of the child, you can sign an affidavit with the child's mother stating that you are the child's father. Third, a court can issue an order stating that you are the child's legal father.
What can I do if I am married to a woman at the time she gives birth to a child, but I am not the biological or natural father of the child?
You must get a court to "disestablish" you as the father of the child. Disestablishment means that the court says you are no longer the legal father. You can only get a court to disestablish you as the legal father during certain court proceedings. During a divorce, a court can disestablish you, if you and your wife agree that you are not the child's father and you both write statements to the court. If the husband and wife do not agree or the divorce is over, you must ask a court to disestablish you as the child's legal father in the child support case. If there is no child support case, you must file a new court action.
How does an affidavit work?
If the parents of a child are not married when the child is born, the hospital will give the mother a "paternity" affidavit that the parties can sign. If the parents sign the affidavit, the hospital files the affidavit with the State Registrar. The affidavit has the same effect as a court order. Paternity affidavits are also available at local county registrars.
What if I signed an affidavit but I do not think I am the child's father?
A person who signs a paternity affidavit can rescind or cancel the affidavit by filling out a new form "cancellation" affidavit from the Iowa Department of Public Health and filing it with the State Registrar. The cancellation affidavit must be filed within 60 days of the day the form was signed by you or the mother OR within 20 days after you are served with court documents about the custody or support of the child (divorce, custody or child support would all count). You must file the cancellation affidavit before whichever of these deadlines happens sooner. This means that the most time you will ever have to cancel your paternity affidavit is 60 days from when the paternity affidavit is signed.
For example, if you sign a paternity affidavit and after two years, the child's mother files a court proceeding for child support, your deadline to cancel the affidavit ended 60 days after you signed the paternity affidavit and you can no longer cancel it. However, if you sign the paternity affidavit and two days later, Child Support Recovery Unit attempts to set up child support, you only have 20 days from the day that you are served with notice of the child support proceeding to cancel your paternity affidavit. There may be a cost involved with filing the cancellation form.
If you are past the deadline to cancel your paternity affidavit, you must ask a court to disestablish you as the legal father in the child support case. If there is no child support case, you must file a separate court action.
What if I have received a notice from Child Support Recovery Unit (CSRU) saying that they are setting up child support?
If you are not sure that you are the natural or biological father of the child, you should take immediate action. You have only twenty (20) days from the day you receive the notice to tell CSRU that you do not think the child is yours.
Whether or not you deny that you are the child's father, you have a right to request a conference with CSRU to discuss paternity and child support. You must ask for the conference within twenty (20) days of receiving the notice.
IMPORTANT - If you are not the father of a child, this is the only chance you will have for the State to pay the cost of genetic testing. If you do fail to respond to the notice and later want to be disestablished as the legal father, you will have to pay for the genetic testing. Testing can cost approximately $450.
What will happen if I tell CSRU that I do not believe the child is mine?
CSRU will get an order requiring you to submit to genetic testing. CSRU will pay for the genetic testing. However, if you are later found to be the father of the child, you may be ordered to reimburse the cost of the genetic testing when child support is ordered.
What will genetic testing show?
Either the test will determine that it is impossible for you to be the father of a child, or the test will explain the likelihood that you are the father of a child (for example, there is a 99.8% likelihood or probability you are the child's father).
What happens after I receive the results of the genetic tests?
If it is impossible for you to be the father of the child, CSRU will stop attempting to collect child support or they will ask for more testing. If the likelihood that you are the father of the child is greater than 95%, then you are assumed to be the father's child.
What if a genetic test says that there is a greater than 95% chance that I am the child's father, but I know that I am not?
You must challenge the test results to a district court within twenty (20) days from the day the results are mailed. You must prove to the Court by clear and convincing evidence that you are not the father. You may ask for additional testing, but you will likely be ordered to pay for the testing.
What if I fail to tell CSRU within twenty (20) days that I am not the child's father?
A court will order that you are the child's father by "default." Default means that you are the child's father because you did not deny it. Child support will be ordered. CSRU can take money directly from your paycheck for your child support. CSRU can also get money other ways, such as taking your tax refund.
Within sixty (60) days of the default order from the Court, you may ask the Court to "set aside" the default. You must show some reason why you did not respond within twenty (20) days of receiving the notice. If it has been more than sixty (60) days since the default order was entered, you must ask to be disestablished as the legal father of the child in the child support case.
What happens if a court decides that I am the legal father of a child?
Child support will be ordered. If you requested genetic testing, the Court may also order that you pay the cost of the testing.
If I know that I am not the natural or biological father of a child, can I refuse to pay child support that has been ordered?
No. If you willfully fail to pay child support that has been ordered, you may be in contempt of a court order. There are special penalties that may be enforced for failing to pay child support. For instance, you could lose your driver's license or even be sentenced to jail.
How do I become the legal father of a child, if I know the child is my natural or biological child?
If no other person is the legal father of the child and the child's mother will not sign a paternity affidavit, you must file a court action to establish yourself as the legal father.
If another person is already legally established as the father of the child, he will have to be "disestablished" as the legal father before you can become the legal father of the child.