By Matthew T. Hovey, Esquire
The New York Times printed an article today highlighting a new paternity test that can determine the paternity of an unborn child through a relatively noninvasive blood test. The test raises the question of whether the door is opening for financial support for unborn children. The goal of this article is to review the potential impact of pre-birth paternity tests on child support in Pennsylvania, as well as the rights of a father.
In Pennsylvania, paternity directly creates rights for a father with respect to child support and custody. As a result, its importance cannot be understated. Typically, paternity is agreed upon and not disputed. The reality, however, is that there are times when paternity can be murky. Paternity can be resolved with court intervention, usually through the child support case after the mother files against the putative father or through a legal action for paternity. Once paternity is established the father can file for custody of the child, but he may also become liable for child support. Currently, the obligation to pay support lasts from birth until at least the 18th birthday, as long as the child remains unemancipated.
The consequence is that under the current law, unless the father is known and agrees to provide support, the mother is financially on her own during the pregnancy. She will be solely responsible for the healthcare costs, including hospitalization for the actual birth. Fair or unfair, the law in this area dates back a long, long time and, at least in principal, predates paternity tests. Science is rapidly progressing, however, and a revision of the child support code may be on the horizon. If paternity can now be determined pre-birth, then it may be appropriate to ensure that the father bears the burden of the pregnancy.
Nevertheless, this potential change raises other questions and advocates for this change should consider the ancillary impact. Just as paternity of a born child gives rise to both the obligation to pay support and the benefit of custody, will the obligation of support for an unborn child also give rise to custodial or similar rights? As of now, if the mother wants to have an abortion, the father, legally speaking, is powerless to stop the abortion. Could a legally recognized pre-birth paternity test also open the door to the father having rights during the pregnancy? Could the father obtain a court order to force the mother to take certain vitamins? Or follow certain medical recommendations?
There are no answers to these questions yet, but, because of the rapid evolution of technology, now may be the time to start the conversation. Prince Law Offices wants to hear from you! Please share your thoughts in the comment section below or on our Facebook page.