A Note on Fatherhood – Are You On Your Child’s Birth Certificate?

A recent Centers For Disease Control & Prevention report documents the rising number of out-of-wedlock births.  From 2006-2010, 45% of women age 15-44 who had children were unmarried, either not living with, or living with but not married to the father.  The number of women living with but not married to the father of their first-born child tripled in the last 10 years.  One can rebut the presumption of paternity for men married to a child’s mother.  These facts complicate the process of listing fathers on birth certificates.

The Oklahoma Uniform Parentage Act lists the methods you can use to assure your listing as father of record on your child’s birth certificate.  Unless you qualify for listing as the child’s father under one of the definitions below, you are just an “alleged father.”  You or the mother may claim you are the father, but your parentage has not been determined.  Make sure you meet one of the following definitions, and that the paperwork is complete to include your name on your child’s birth certificate.

Presumed Father – A presumed father of a child is married to the child’s mother.  The child may also be born within 300 days after your marriage to the child’s mother ends.  You are also a presumed father if you declare as a matter of record the child as yours, and marry the mother after the child is born.  Even if you do not marry the mother, you are a presumed father if you live in the same household as the child, and hold the child out as your own for the first two (2) years of the child’s life.

Acknowledged Father – If the mother is willing to cooperate, you can send a completed Acknowledgment of Paternity form to the Oklahoma Department of Health Vital Records Service (VRS). After the VRS accepts the form, it will amend the birth certificate to list you as the father. You can get the form online here, from the VRS, your county health department, the Office of Child Support Services, or from any hospital with a maternity ward.

Adjudicated Father – If the mother does not wish to cooperate, you can file a Petition with the district court to determine parentage. If the mother admits your paternity or a DNA test determines paternity, you can get a court order declaring you the father. You can then use the court order to amend the birth certificate.

by David Tracy

Claim Allowed for Negligent Performance of DNA Test

Imagine yourself as a single mother.  You want to collect child support from the only man you’ve been with, but the DNA testing lab whose test will prove him as the father messes up the test – not once but twice.  You might want to assert a claim against the DNA lab.  Despite the best efforts of one lab facing those claims, the Oklahoma Supreme Court this month allowed such a lawsuit to proceed.

In Berman v. Laboratory Corporation of America,  the Oklahoma Department of Human Services (DHS),  in an administrative proceeding, arranged for the Defendant, LabCorp, Inc. (LabCorp), to perform a DNA test to determine parentage of Berman’s child.   LabCorp ran two tests, and both excluded the alleged father as a parent.  DHS dropped its administrative case.

Berman sent the samples to a second lab, which determined that the alleged father was the other parent to Berman’s child.  Berman then brought a private parentage proceeding, using the new tests as evidence.  the trial court determined the father’s status as parent and set his child support obligation.

Berman filed suit against LabCorp claiming it negligently performed the DNA testing.  She claimed the company switched ID numbers for the first test, then corrected the ID number but used the same incorrect sample for the second test.  LabCorp convinced a trial court to dismiss the case, claiming the lab reports were privileged communications in a legal proceeding.

The Oklahoma Supreme Court saw it otherwise.   It determined that reporting negligent test results did not insulate LabCorp from negligence in performing the test.  The Supreme Court held that LabCorp owed a duty to Berman to accurately perform DNA testing to determine the parentage of her child.  The Court remanded the case for trial.

This case also traces the increasing importance of genetic testing as evidence in court.  the opinion cites examples in which parties used DNA evidence to:

  • determine parentage,
  • determine heirship of a decedent’s estate,
  • prevent an Indian adoption from proceeding without notice of the natural father,
  • convict criminals, and
  • exonerate wrongfully convicted persons.

The Uniform Parentage Act specifically provides for genetic testing to determine parentage.  All the cited statutes and court decisions were passed or decided within the last 10 years.

DNA is not the only evidence, but it is often the strongest evidence in a given case.  Inaccurate test results could deal a devastating blow to those who otherwise have no ability to prove their cases on their own.  The Berman decision establishes that this risk is foreseeable, and testing labs have a duty to prevent that risk of harm.