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Determining Paternity for Child Support Purposes

Establishing legal parenthood is simple for married couples. According to North Carolina law, when a married couple has a baby, both parents are considered the legal parents by default. For unmarried parents, establishing paternity can take a little more effort.

Importance of Establishing Paternity


An order for child support will not be entered between unmarried parents without establishing paternity.[1] There are a few ways that this can be completed:

  • The mother and father voluntarily acknowledge paternity by filing an Affidavit of Parentage
  • Genetic testing is completed to identify the father
  • The courts determine and establish paternity

If the parents are in agreement and there is no dispute over paternity, the simplest method is to complete an Affidavit of Parentage. However, a judge can make a formal judgment on paternity if there is a dispute.

Guilford County v. Mabe


A court ruling regarding paternity is binding with little room for amendment. In order for a decision on paternity to be set aside, it must be shown that the prior paternity order involved fraud, duress, excusable neglect, or mutual mistake.[2]

In Guilford County v. Mabe,[3] the issue of paternity was front and center in a child support and show cause case. Child support was established when the Guilford County Child Support Enforcement Agency filed a complaint on behalf of Mother for support. Father was ordered to pay support at the hearing in 2015, and this order included the finding that paternity was established.

In 2016, the Agency filed a motion for a show cause order because Father failed to pay the ordered child support. At least three show cause orders were entered as a result of the hearing. The trial court recalled the order for arrest and allowed a continuance of the show cause hearing after Father filed a motion to require paternity testing. The Agency appealed the decision on the basis that paternity had already been established in 2015.

The North Carolina Court of Appeals ruled that Father’s motion for modification was not proper and that no required allegations were made in his motion to set aside paternity. The lower court’s order for paternity testing was reversed, and the Appellate Court ruled that a new hearing on the issue of the show cause was permitted.

A parent intending to show that a court ruling establishing a father’s paternity was made based on fraud, mutual mistake, duress, or excusable negligence will need an experienced Greensboro divorce attorney on their side.

[1] NC Department of Health and Human Services.

[2] NC General Statute § 49-14.

[3] Guilford Cty. v. Mabe, 279 N.C. App. 561, 866 S.E.2d 305.