While a DNA test will show almost definitively (90-99% accuracy) whether a man is the father of a child, in New York there are other ways to establish paternity. One way is by signing an Acknowledgement of Paternity (AOP). Both parents must sign the document, it must be witnessed, and it must be filed with the Office of Vital Records/Corrections Unit. Typically, parents file the document soon after the child is born, but it can be completed any time after the birth up until the child is 21 years old. Once an Acknowledgement of Paternity is filed, the father is considered the legal father of the child and has both the legal rights and obligations of a father. This means that the father is responsible for financially supporting the child and can be required to pay child support. It also means that the father is entitled to have access to the child and can petition for custody or visitation.
In M.H. v. S.S., the mother and father of the child were living together at the child the time was born. They signed an Acknowledgement of Paternity the day after the child was born. Eight months later, the relationship ended, and the mother moved. She then filed a petition for custody. She was eventually awarded sole legal and physical custody. The father was granted visitation. Two years later, the father filed a petition to enforce visitation. In the petition he acknowledged that he was the father of the child. The mother then filed a petition against the father for child support. Interestingly, the very next month, expressing doubts as to whether he was the child’s father, the presumed father filed a petition to vacate the Acknowledgement of Paternity.
Once an Acknowledgement of Paternity has been filed, it is difficult to overturn. The petitioner seeking to vacate an Acknowledgement of Paternity must allege that he signed it based on fraud, misrepresentation, or other misconduct.