Paternity: Am I the Father?
How the Law Works in Maine
- What is this information and how will it help me?
- What does the law say about a parent’s duty to support?
- Why is the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) involved in child support?
- Should I take a paternity test?
- What are the procedures to establish paternity?
- When can I raise questions about my paternity?
What is this information and how will it help me?
This information is for parents who are being pursued by DHHS for payment of child support. We also have pages on these related topics:
- How to figure your child support obligation
- How the DHHS hearing process works
- What DHHS can do to collect support
These materials do not cover other areas of family law such as divorce, visitation, or custody. They do not cover cases where the other parent is suing you for child support. This information is not a substitute for legal counsel. If you need to know more about your specific DHHS child support case or need legal advice in a related family law matter, check the list of resources below.
Family Law Resources
Department of Health and Human Services
Support Enforcement will direct you to the agent assigned to your case or to someone who can answer your questions.
Maine Lawyer Referral Service
1-800-860-1460 or 622-1460 (local)
This service will refer you to a private attorney for a $25 fee. The first half-hour of advice is free.
Volunteer Lawyers Project
1-800-442-4293 or 774-4348 (local)
This service provides referrals for low income people to Pine Tree Legal Assistance or to lawyers who volunteer their time for some types of family law matters.
If they cannot find you a lawyer, they may be able to give you a self-help guide and provide over-the-phone help or referral to a Courthouse Assistance Project.
What does the law say about a parent’s duty to support?
State law requires all parents to support their children. It does not matter if the parents were ever married. If you do not live with your children, you will probably be required to send regular child support payments to the parent or third party who is caring for your child. This duty continues until your children are 18 years old or, if a child is still in high school, until he is 19. You can also be required to pay health care costs, including health insurance, and child care costs.
Why is the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) involved in child support?
Federal and state law requires DHHS to collect child support for two groups of families: those who receive Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and those who do not receive TANF but who ask DHHS to help collect the support. When DHHS collects support for TANF families, it gives part of the support to the family and keeps the rest to reimburse the State for some or all of the TANF paid. DHHS sends current support collected for non-TANF families to the family. DHHS can charge you a $2 per week fee for the collection service. In a case involving an individual who has never received public assistance, DHHS can also charge a $25 annual fee if it collects at least $500.
Paternity: Am I the Father?
If you are not the father, then you cannot be required to support the child. If you were married to the mother when the child was conceived or born, if you signed a birth certificate, or if you signed an "acknowledgment of paternity" form, then you are presumed to be the father. Otherwise, DHHS or the mother must establish that you are the father.
If the mother is getting TANF, she must tell the State who she thinks the father is. If she has named you, DHHS will contact you to find out if you agree that you are the father. If you agree, DHHS will probably ask you to sign an "acknowledgment of paternity" form. Before you sign the form, DHHS must tell you about your choices, and the legal effects of signing the form. Once you have signed this form, you are responsible for the child's support. Read more about acknowledgement of paternity.
You have the right to take back the acknowledgement within 60 days or by the date of a hearing to establish support, whichever comes first. After this, you can only challenge the acknowledgement in court. Then you carry the burden of proving that you incorrectly acknowledged paternity due to fraud, duress or material mistake of fact. You are required to pay support during the time your court challenge is pending. You should try to get legal help.
Should I take a paternity test?
If you have not acknowledged paternity and do not agree or are not sure that you are the father, you should ask for a paternity test to find out. DHHS will probably ask you to have your tissue tested in any event. This is almost always done by brushing a cotton swab on the inner cheek. If you cannot afford to help pay for the tests, DHHS should pay the entire cost. If you are determined to be the father, they may add the cost to your child support debt.
You have the right to refuse to take a paternity test requested by DHHS. However, if you refuse, DHHS can go to court and ask the judge to order you to be tested. If you still refuse testing, the judge can decide that you are the father.
If the test results read 97% or more, you are among 3% or less of the population that could be the father. All others in the population are excluded. If DHHS were to take you to court in this case, the court would presume that you were the father. You could either agree that you are the father, or you could let DHHS take you to court where you would have the chance to try to prove that you are not. You would need to have clear and convincing evidence in order to outweigh the paternity test results.
If the experts who look at the test results say that you are probably not the father, then it is unlikely that DHHS would decide to go to court to try to prove that you are. In this case, you cannot be asked to pay for the tests.
What are the procedures to establish paternity?
If you have not acknowledged paternity, DHHS will try to establish paternity. DHHS may begin this process by hand-delivering you a "Notice of Paternity Proceeding." The notice includes important information about the claims against you, your rights, and what you must do to oppose the action.
If you deny that you are the father, you must file a written denial with DHHS. You must file it within 20 days after you were served.
NOTE: It is extremely important to file the written denial before the deadline if you do not believe that you are the father. If you do not, DHHS can go to court to get a "default judgment" saying that you are the father. (Although DHHS must mail you a copy of any request for a "default judgment," the court can refuse to listen to your arguments at that point, saying you are too late.)
Once DHHS receives your written denial, you will be scheduled for a paternity test. (This notice and later notices can be sent to you by mail, rather than being hand-delivered. In order to be informed about what is happening with your case, you should notify DHHS of any change of address.) If you fail to show up for the test, DHHS must notify you by regular mail that you have the chance to reschedule the test. If you don’t ask for a new test date before the deadline, or don’t show up again, DHHS will treat this as a refusal to submit to testing and can take you to court. If you continue to refuse to be tested, the court can decide that you are the father.
DHHS can require you to give additional tissue samples if they need them to get more complete test results. On the other hand, if you contest the results of the first test and pay for another one in advance, DHHS must set up another round of testing for you.
If the test results show that you are likely to be the father, DHHS will ask you to acknowledge paternity within 15 days after the results of the test have been mailed to you.
If you still believe that you are not the father, do not sign the acknowledgement. Get legal advice.
Next, DHHS can take you to court by filing "A Record Of A Paternity Proceeding." DHHS must mail you a notice that it is taking the case to court. You have 25 days after the notice is mailed to file your defenses in writing to the court. You also have the right to ask the court, in writing, for additional testing, by different qualified experts. Again, you will probably have to pay for extra tests.
If you go to a court hearing, the judge will decide whether you are the father. If you are found to be the father, the judge may also make a support order, which can include back support and medical expenses, plus health coverage for the child. The court cannot go back more than 6 years from the time the court action was started. The court can also order you to pay for the paternity testing and court costs, including attorney's fees, unless you prove that you cannot afford to pay those costs.
When can I raise questions about my paternity?
If you have concerns about your paternity, you must raise them during a paternity proceeding with DHHS. If you have concerns about your paternity after you have started paying support, get legal advice. You may be able to start a court action to prove you are or are not the father.
Remember: If you do not respond at all to DHHS' attempts to establish paternity, DHHS may go to court and you can lose your right to argue that you are not the father.
Updated December 2009
PTLA # 384A