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.
In denying his petition to vacate the Acknowledgement of Paternity, the court notes that the petitioner did not allege fraud, misrepresentation, or other misconduct. He merely states that after signing the Acknowledgement of Paternity, he had doubts. The doubts were based on finding out after the child was born that the mother was dating another man. The court was not convinced. In fact, the court noted that the timing of filing the petition to vacate the Acknowledgement of Paternity was suspect. The petitioner did not indicate that he had any doubts that he was the father of the child until the mother sought child support. In fact, the petitioner reiterated his belief that he was the father of the child when she sought to enforce visitation just a few weeks prior to petitioning the court to vacate the Acknowledgement of Paternity.
Ultimately the court concluded that by failing to allege fraud, misrepresentation, or any other conduct, the petitioner did not make a prima facie showing to support his petition to vacate his Acknowledgement of Paternity.
If there is any doubt about paternity, it would be wise to get DNA confirm of paternity instead of signing an Acknowledgement of Paternity. Once an Acknowledgement of Paternity is filed, it is difficult to reverse. Even if DNA later confirms that the man who signed an Acknowledgement of Paternity is not the biological father, the court may still decline to vacate an Acknowledgement of Paternity if it determines that it is not in the best interests of the child to do so.