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. 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.
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 other person 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 they are 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:
- Families that receive Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)
- Families that do not receive TANF, but 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 pay back 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 pay period fee for the collection service. In a case involving a person who has never gotten public assistance, DHHS can also charge a $25 annual fee if it collects at least $500 in support.
What if I don't know if I'm the parent?
If you are not a parent, then you cannot be required to support the child.
You might be a "presumed parent"
You are a "presumed parent" of the child If you:
- were married to a parent when the child was conceived or born,
- signed a birth certificate, or
- signed an "acknowledgment of paternity" form.
You can also be a "presumed parent" if you acted as a parent to the child in the first two years of their life - whether or not you are a biological parent.
If you are a “presumed parent” because you acted as a parent to the child for the first two years of the child’s life, DHHS may contact you to name you as a legal parent to the child and look for a court order giving you the same rights and responsibilities to the child in as a biological parent, including the obligation to pay child support.
You can learn more about being a presumed parent in our Guide to the Maine Parentage Act.
You might be named as a parent
If the parent the child lives with is getting TANF, they must tell the State who they think the other biological parent is. If they name you, DHHS will contact you to find out if you agree that you are the parent. If you agree, DHHS will probably ask you to sign an "acknowledgment of paternity" form. You do not have to be a man or a "father" to use this form. It is used to acknowledge parentage, but it still called an "acknowledgment of paternity" at this time.
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 it is up to you to prove that you incorrectly acknowledged parentage because:
- You were lied to about being the parent;
- You were forced or coerced into signing the acknowledgment; or
- You or the other parent were wrong on the facts that made you think you were the parent.
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 DNA test?
If you have not acknowledged parentage and do not agree or are not sure that you are a parent, you should ask for a DNA test to find out. DHHS will probably ask you to take a DNA test anyway. 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 a parent, they may add the cost to your child support debt.
You have the right to refuse to take a DNA test requested by DHHS. But, 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 parent.
If the test indicates that you are a genetic parent of the child, you have to decide what to do. You can either agree that you are a biological parent, or you can 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 DNA test results.
If the experts who look at the test results say that you are probably not the parent, 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.
How will DHHS try to establish parentage?
If you have not acknowledged parentage, DHHS will try to establish it. 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 if you want to challenge the action.
If you deny that you are the parent, 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 parent. If you do not, DHHS can go to court to get a "default judgment" saying that you are the parent. (DHHS must mail you a copy of any request for a "default judgment," but the court can refuse to listen to your arguments at that point, saying you are too late.)
Once DHHS gets your written denial, you will be scheduled for a DNA test. This notice and later notices can be sent to you by mail, instead of being hand-delivered. Make sure you tell DHHS if your address changes, so you get all these notices.
If you don't go 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 a parent.
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 a biological parent, DHHS will ask you to acknowledge parentage within 15 days after the results of the test have been mailed to you.
If you still believe that you are not a biological parent, 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 a parent. If you are found to be the parent, 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 DNAtesting 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 parentage?
If you have doubts about your parentage, you must bring them up during this proceeding with DHHS. If you have doubts about your parentage 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 a parent.
Remember: If you do not respond at all to DHHS' attempts to establish parentage, DHHS may go to court and you can lose your right to argue that you are not a parent.
Updated July 2017
PTLA # 384A