Hello. My name is Brian L. Jackson. I am a Tulsa fathers’ rights attorney, and today we’re going to talk about paternity. So you just recently found out that your girlfriend’s pregnant, and you’re feeling really excited. “Hey, I’m going to be a dad.” And your first thought and your thoughts on your mind, “Well, if it’s a boy, I can teach him sports. I can take him hunting with me. We’ll have it great time together.” Now, if it’s a daughter, you think about doting on your daughter and how she’s going to be daddy’s little girl.
Here’s something else you should think about. How are you going to establish rights for that child? Because under Oklahoma law, if you’re an unwed father, the law is not especially friendly to you if you don’t avail yourself of the courts. Until you establish rights, you don’t have rights, and you’re basically at mom’s mercy. Now, you may be thinking right now, “Well, okay. I have a good relationship with baby mama. So what do I care? She’s my girlfriend,” or, “We live together”, or, “Well, she’s my fiance and we’re going to get married.” Well, here’s something to consider. That may be the case now. It may not be the case forever. And if things get nasty between you two, you don’t want her to take your kid and disappear. So it’s important to get a lawyer involved early if you know she’s pregnant.
So that’s going to help yourself. Well, obviously, you want to try to support her in any way possible while she’s pregnant. And you may also want to talk to a lawyer about getting something initiated. Now, if you’re on good terms with her, then maybe you can do it as a friendly suit and basically initiate paternity proceedings in the court to get a court order saying that you are a dad. If things aren’t so friendly, all the more reason to get after it. Get a lawyer involved and get a paternity suit filed.
So what is the paternity process? Well, as I said, you’re going to get a lawyer involved and you’re going to file a petition to establish paternity for the child. As an initial matter, you need to be able to prove that you are a dad. Now, there are certain things that you can do short of a DNA test that might help you. If you’ve been supporting the child if you’ve held the child out as your own if your name’s on the birth certificate. Obviously, if DHS has entered an administrative child support order against you, well, that’s going to help you a lot, because before they can do that, they have to establish paternity.
Failing one of those situations or one or more of those situations, there is the option of a DNA test. However, for the purposes of proving legal parentage, that test is about 500 bucks. So if you can avoid that, it’s probably good to avoid that. It’s not cheap.
After you’ve established child support or established that you are, in fact, dad, excuse me. After you’ve established that you are, in fact, dad, as far as the law is concerned, the next thing you’re going to be looking at is temporary orders, temporary orders for custody and child support. If you’re looking to have custody, I can tell you from experience that although the court is supposed to consider and do a straight best interest analysis, in a lot of non-marital custody disputes, the default choice for a lot of judges, whether it’s right or wrong, is going to be a mom. If you want to be the custodian, you need to have a good case. And again, this is where you want to get with your lawyer early on. And if that’s your goal, then you need to discuss exactly what grounds you have to argue in court why they should take the child away from the mother.
If you want joint custody, that’s certainly something that can be looked into and attained. Again, you want to get with a good lawyer early. Don’t sign. If she’s filed something on you, don’t sign anything without consulting with legal counsel first. After temporary orders, if you’re looking at a custody trial, again, it’s going to be the same steps as with a divorce. Basically, you would do discovery either before temporary orders or after temporary orders. Discovery will consist of requests for production. Like with a divorce, you need to produce proof of income. She’s going to be required to produce proof of income and any other financially related things. Proof of insurance is important. If you have it available and it’s available for the kids, that’s something you want to get together. You also get to ask questions and you get to request admissions. There may be other things you want to look into depending on the particulars of your facts.
After discovery, you’re looking at your next step is probably going to be a pretrial conference if it’s contested or it may be a judge orders mediation. Mediation is basically where you sit down at a settlement conference with your lawyer. She’ll have her lawyer. She’ll be there, and there’ll be a mediator who acts as a referee, and their job is to try to facilitate settlement. Nothing you do in there is binding unless you choose to make it binding. But it is an opportunity to attempt to reach a reasonable settlement prior to going to a trial and going to the expense of a trial.
If you can’t settle, then you go to a pretrial conference where everybody will bring their evidence to the table, including witnesses and exhibits, and you’ll hammer out a pretrial order to streamline the trial process. And lastly, you go to trial. At trial, if you’re fighting over custody, it’s going to basically be witnesses and exhibits to establish why it’s in the best interest of the child to be with you or whether it’s in the best interest of the child to be with mom or whether it’s in the best interest of the child to be in your joint custody.
What is joint custody? Well, joint custody is where you both have legal decision-making power, and it can also mean split physical custodial periods, where the child’s at your house a certain percentage of the time and at mom’s house a certain percentage of the time. Under normal circumstances, if there’s nothing there to justify denying you access to the child, the court will award some kind of visitation. Normally it wouldn’t be supervised if you’re not found unfit. It just means if you’re not given custody, you’ll have certain days. Most of the counties have default schedules that can include things like alternating weekends. You’ll get so many weeks during the summer, and then you and the mother will split holidays.
That’s usually what the court will do, assuming there aren’t any issues with you or issues with her, and issues meaning things that would call into question your parenting skills. If there are, then you may be looking at the supervised visitation. If you are not custodial, you’re probably also looking at some kind of a child support entry judgment. Child support can be calculated back two years on paternity, which is another reason not to screw around on filing because if you file it before the child’s born, you don’t end up with a judgment for arrearage. And this is a big deal because you can end up on the hook for a bunch of money. The moment that a paternity order is entered, you could be behind the eight balls and they can enter a judgment against you. And then you can start going down the path of getting a lien. You could get in persona lien. You can end up with all kinds of problems, even if you were making a good faith effort to care for your child.
So this is another reason you want to get after that quickly, even if you’re on amicable terms with mom. If you’re on amicable terms with mom, that’s great. Then get it done while she’s agreeable. Get something organized so that you are already prepared if the worst should happen and your relationship ends.
My name is Brian L. Jackson, and we’ve been talking about paternity suits. And if you find yourself, if you’re an expectant dad or a new dad, get a hold of me right away. I’ll help you out with that