Paternity presumption in Pennsylvania may be archaic but still valid in this state. It is one of only a few states that maintain this presumption of paternity. Our Commonwealth’s law, with its goal of supporting an intact family unit, has resulted in husbands supporting children who are not their biological offspring. In Pennsylvania, thanks to the paternity presumption, the answer to the question “Who’s your Daddy?” may not be so easy to answer.
John and Mary Smith have three children, the youngest of which is two years old. John has always acted as a father for all three children and supported them financially and emotionally. Mary recently confessed to John that their youngest child is not his. It turns out that Mary had an affair with Joe Brown and Joe Brown is, in fact, the father of the youngest Smith child. John tells Mary that she needs to ask Joe for child support. Joe Brown is the father of the child, not John Smith, so it’s only fair that Joe should have to pay child support, right?
When a child is born to an intact marriage in Pennsylvania, there is an overwhelming presumption that the child is the legitimate offspring of the husband. The only way to combat this presumption is by showing, by clear and convincing evidence, that the husband is impotent or did not have access to the wife at the time the child was conceived. Even if the putative father takes paternity tests and the results show that the husband is not the child’s father, Pennsylvania still presumes that the husband is the father of the child. The theory is that a family unit should be preserved, no matter the circumstances. This family preservation interest is weighted much more heavily than the chance that someone other than the husband is the father of a child. In the example above, if John and Mary Smith continue to be married, there will be a presumption that John is the father of their youngest child, unless John can show irrefutably that he is impotent or that he did not have access to his wife, for example, that he was out of the country, at the time the child was conceived. If John and Mary Smith stay married, then there is no claim for child support against Joe Brown.
What if John files for divorce against Mary? Does John have to pay child support for the youngest child? Upon divorce, there is no more family unit to preserve, as divorce dissolves the family unit. Therefore, when the couple divorces, the presumption of paternity is easier to overcome. If John Smith can produce the results of a paternity test showing that Joe Brown is the father of the youngest Smith child, then John will have a strong basis to argue that he should not have to pay child support.