More and more children are being conceived and born outside of marriage. While paternity disputes can certainly occur within the context of a married relationship, questions regarding the father's identity may come up more often now that, among women under 30, over 50 percent of births occur to unmarried mothers.
A great deal depends on establishing paternity. Unmarried putative fathers may have to prove a child is theirs in order to gain visitation and child custody rights. Unmarried mothers may have to resort to paternity tests to require a man to provide support for the couple's child. Today, tests usually occur after the baby is delivered, meaning that unless a man volunteers to pay expenses for a growing fetus that might not be his, women typically bear the costs associated with the pregnancy until the test produces results.
That could all change soon, however. A new paternity test can now determine the identity of the father just after the second month of pregnancy. While there is already a test on the market that can produce a result before the child's birth, it carries a risk of miscarriage and is not often used to settle paternity disputes. By contrast, the new test does not have that risk. It is a simple, non-invasive blood test.
Some believe that the test could change the face of family law. In the near future, it could be possible for courts to impose child support payments on fathers even before the baby is brought to term. State legislatures would have to create new laws to that effect, however.
In addition, the tests must hurdle other potential roadblocks. The companies that produce them must prove that they meet the accuracy standards required in child custody cases. One company has already signed up to undergo the testing and certification process.
Source: The New York Times, "Before Birth, Dad's ID," Andrew Pollack, June 19, 2012.