Paternity and Iowa Law
Authored By: Iowa Legal Aid
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In human biology, paternity refers to the man who is the father of a child. Iowa law uses the word "paternity" to address many more issues. A legal finding of paternity involves both rights and responsibilities. Iowa law requires a "legal father" to support his child(ren). If a man does not provide the support for which he is determined to be responsible, the law also provides ways to enforce the obligation.
How are decisions about paternity made in Iowa?
Paternity is determined in one of three ways:
- genetic (DNA) testing; or
- affidavit or agreement.
Establishing paternity often involves going to court. Most of those cases are filed by Iowa's Child Support Recovery Unit (CSRU).
Is the legal father always the biological father?
Not always. Suppose a woman who is married to a man has a baby whose father is not her husband. The law says her husband is the legal father of the child. Then the woman and her husband separate. If she asks and gets child support, her husband will be responsible for paying the amount of child support. Another example would be when a man does not respond to notices from the court or CSRU claiming he is the father and a "default" order is entered.
What Happens After CSRU Sends Notice to Comply With Paternity Testing
Note: Even if a man agrees he is the legal father, he should make sure CSRU has his accurate income information so the support order is fair.
What can a man responsible for paying child support do if he is not the father of the child?
He can ask a court to find that he is not the biological father of the child. This process is called "disestablishing paternity." If the court takes away the obligation to support the child, it also ends the right to see the child. There are three ways to have paternity reviewed:
- The legal father files a request for genetic testing after he gets a notice from Child Support Recovery Unit (CSRU);
- A parent files for divorce; or
- A parent files a case in court to disestablish paternity.
The Legal Father Files a Request
After the legal father files a request with CSRU, CSRU will ask the court to order paternity testing.
- CSRU pays for the genetic testing, and
- If paternity tests show the man is not the father (under 95% chance that he is the father), they will stop the process of trying to collect from the husband.
A Parent Files for Divorce
- Divorce cases make the court decide custody and child support questions.
- If the child was born or conceived during the marriage, but is not the husband's child, the court can disestablish paternity of the husband.
- Husband and wife must agree in writing that husband is not the father.
- An attorney must be appointed for the child(ren).
- Genetic testing (to be paid for by the person requesting) can, and frequently is, required by the court.
- If the husband does not ask the court to look at paternity during the divorce, support will probably be ordered in the divorce decree. If it isn't, CSRU will get a child support order against the husband if the wife received state benefits (like FIP or Medicaid).
A Parent Files a Case in Court to Disestablish Paternity
The requirements for an action are:
- The child is under age 18;
- The court must appoint an attorney to represent the child;
- DNA tests either have not already been done or show the legal father is not the biological father;
- If paternity was established by affidavit, the court must find that it was based on fraud, duress or mistake; and
- The paternity determination was originally made in Iowa or the paternity order from another state is registered in Iowa.
What Happens When a Man Is Proven Not To Be the Father?
- If paternity is overcome, any unpaid support due at that point is considered satisfied or paid in full.
- If paternity is overcome, all future obligations are gone.
- Support that has already been paid cannot be recovered.
- Iowa Legal Aid provides help to low-income Iowans.
- To apply for help from Iowa Legal Aid:
- Iowans age 60 and over, call 800-992-8161 or
- apply online at iowalegalaid.org