Many viewers tune in to watch the Maury Show when the host opens a big envelope in dramatic fashion and reveals the identity of the father of someone's child. Similar drama unfolds at least on a weekly basis in a courtroom with much less fanfare in Tuscaloosa County and other courtrooms all over the state. The hearings are over in minutes, but the effects are felt for a lifetime.
I'm reminded of something I learned as a child from my parents, some advice that goes something like this: "It's much easier to do a job right the first time than to have to go back and fix a poor job later." This lesson certainly applies when dealing with paternity, child custody, and child support.
Generally speaking, the process plays out as follows, the mother of a child has a good idea who the father is but is not completely sure. She is getting no assistance from him as to the financial needs of this child and she decides to have a court order him to pay child support. She files a paternity suit and he is summoned to appear in court.
Once the parties appear, the court lays out the options for proceeding. The presumed father has a right to have an attorney appointed to represent him in the matter if it is determined that he is indigent. Additionally, the presumed father is afforded the opportunity to have a dna test performed to determine if he is indeed the child's father. The dna test comes with a cost that may also be waived, at least partially, if the man is determined to be indigent.
If the man is found to be the child's father, he will likely be ordered to pay an amount of child support based on the combined incomes of the father and mother. I have found that it is almost always in the best interest of the presumed father to have the dna testing done. Even if he is very certain that he is indeed the father, there will never be a better time to find out for sure. Also, if the man finds out later that the child's mother concealed information of another possible father, the chances of successfully reopening the case are remote because the court is hesitant to cause an older child to be suddenly fatherless.