North Carolina law requires parents to support their children regardless of their own marital status. When the alleged father of an illegitimate child does not acknowledge his paternity, however, it may be necessary to seek a court order declaring him the father. Such lawsuits may be brought in a North Carolina district court anytime before the child’s 18th birthday.
North Carolina paternity law requires “clear, cogent, and convincing evidence” to establish paternity. The most common method for doing so is a blood or genetic marker test. These tests are mandatory for establishing paternity in cases brought more than three years after the child’s birth or after the alleged father’s death. In all cases, blood and genetic market tests are enough to meet the “clear, cogent, and convincing evidence standard,” provided there’s at least a 97% probability of a genetic match between parent and child.
As noted above, genetic tests are mandatory for establishing paternity after the alleged father’s death. State law further restricts the ability to seek a paternity order against a deceased father. While such lawsuits are valid if initiated before the alleged father’s death, after his death suit may only be brought within a limited time frame. If the alleged father’s personal representative has opened an estate, that time period is the same as for the presentation of other claims against the estate, which is 90 days from the publication of a formal notice to creditors. If no estate is opened within a year of the alleged father’s death, a paternity suit may be brought within that same year.
If a court establishes paternity, the father must assume the same duties and obligations to care for the child as if he or she were legitimate. The father also assumes responsibility for medical expenses related to the pregnancy and birth. Paternity does not, however, legitimize the child. That can be done through a separate legal proceeding.
If the court finds the established parent of an illegitimate child is not meeting the “reasonable needs of the child for health, education, and maintenance,” the judge may enter a separate child support order. The amount of support is determined by the state’s child support guidelines, which are also used in divorce cases.
A previously entered court order establishing paternity can be reopened and set aside if the alleged father can both show through genetic testing that he is not the actual father, and that the original order was the product of “fraud, duress, mutual mistake, or excusable neglect.” The burden of proof in such cases is on the person moving to set aside the original order.