Two Qs re Child Support and Naming the child of an unmarried woman

Take this situation: A man named John has been married to Jane for around twenty years. She’s always been a stay at home wife/mother. They have three children, ages 17, 14, 11. John is fairly well known in the smallish suburban town he lives in – he’s president of the Lion’s Club or a deacon in his church, something like that.

At some point John meets Alice Brown, and they have sex a few times, just a thing that flairs up and then ends, no grand passion. Alice gets pregnant and decides to have the child. She thinks the timing means John is the likely father.

She decides to put his name down as the father on the child’s birth certificate, names the kid “John XXX, Jr,” and asks for child support. John asks for a paternity test.

(BTW, side question, can a woman simply say the father is XXXX on the birth certificate, assuming she’s not married to him, or anyone for that matter? Or does it take the consent of the man to be so listed? And is she free to give the child any (non-obscene) surname she pleases?)

Back to the main matter:

Suppose the paternity test shows John is indeed the father. How is the amount of child support determined? A big factor is his income, of course, and Alice’s. But do they also take into account the other, earlier, claims on his income? John is also supporting Mary and their three children, probably looking at paying for college for three children in the near future. Is the child support for John, Jr. likely to be set at a lower amount because of that, than it would if he were a single man without those responsibilities?

Suppose the paternity test shows John is NOT the father. Obviously he doesn’t have to pay child support. But can the woman still name the kid John XXX, Jr?

Does that depend at all on what the XXX part is? I mean, if the kid is John Smith, Jr, so what? There are no doubt thousands of other John Smiths in the world and maybe several in Suburbville where they all live. No one should jump to the conclusion that means that the John Smith who is President of the Lion’s Club has anything to do with the kid.

On the other hand, if the surname is something like Picklethwaite… yeah. Could he get the court to block her from giving the kid that name?

Putting John’s name as the father on the birth certificate and naming the baby John XXX, Jr probably vary by state. In my state, an unmarried mother can choose any surname she wants for the child, including the name of the putative father whether he acknowledges paternity or not. To include the father’s name on the birth certificate, both parents must sign an “Acknowledgment of Paternity” form - giving the child the putative father’s surname does not establish paternity in itself.

As far as child support goes, the number of existing children are taken into account - but my understanding is that all of the children children are going to be treated the same for calculating child support. That is, the married man won’t be able to exclude income from the child support calculations because he needs to pay for private school and college and summer camp for his marital children. Which is not to say that he can’t choose to actually treat his non-marital child differently than the marital children - only that Alice won’t get a smaller child support order because of that choice.

Yeah - in the US this is entirely subject to state law - and different states do vary.

My memory was that most states no longer had an entry for “father” on the birth certificate or, if they did, it was of no/little legal value. But I haven’t checked for many years.

(In a previous job, I used to occasionally have to express opinions/litigate concerning paternity WRT eligibility for federal benefits. My favorite case - which ended up as a published 7th Cir decision, involved the spouse of a retired college professor, who inseminated herself with a turkey baster using sperm from a Canadian who was purportedly an Israeli secret agent - if memory serves.)

Every state I’ve ever seen still has an entry for “father” on the birth certificate, and if the mother is married, the her husband’s name is in many states automatically entered there. (If her husband ISN’T the father, it typically takes court action to get his name removed.) If the mother isn’t married, however, generally both parents must sign paperwork to have a father listed (or, again, a court order).

My state has a space on the birth certificate for parent 2,* and I’d be very surprised if any state doesn’t. Birth certificates are frequently used to show who the legal parents are – it’s non-controversial in the vast majority of cases. And yes, in my state, the 2nd person has to consent to be listed initially, which is probably also typical.

*Not every child has a legal father.

Some sections of this 2-month old thread touch on issues of baby names vs actual or false fathers named on certificates with or without their knowledge or approval. And the child support implications for the man named on the certificate.

The answers to this are probably so variable that this is better suited for IMHO than GQ.

General Questions Moderator

I readily admit my ignorance. I must’ve been mistaken in remembering that the entry was for “husband” or “spouse.”

That’s true. Sorry to put you to the trouble of moving the thread. In this case, the state is Massachusetts.

As you all probably guessed, this is a situation in my own family, with names and other details (like the kid’s ages) slightly changed.

John is my husband’s cousin, though their ages are so different they are more like uncle/nephew. I’m actually much closer to Jane (who I accidentally called Mary the second time in the OP, there’s only the one wife) who is the one who told me what’s going on. Or at least, what John has recently told her is going on. He told her it was just a ‘meaningless thing,’ ‘it’s over, it was only a couple of times’, and ‘he really loves only her,’ and so forth, all of which may be true or not. (Personally I’ve always thought John had a straying eye.)

There’s the to-be-expected feelings of hurt/jealousy/betrayal/anger but Jane is also very concerned for what this will mean for her family going forward. They’ve been doing okay, solidly middle class, but his income comes from a business he owns/runs and it’s been hard hit by the pandemic. To have to pay out a large chunk of money each month for 18 years or so – it will have impacts on how they live.

Plus there’s that name thing. John and his family and my husband and me are the only people with our surname east of the Mississippi. Seriously, I looked it up in a database once. There were only five other people with exactly the same surname in the whole country – none of whom we are related to, at least going back to the original “Picklethwaite” who emigrated here. So if another kid shows up in their town with our surname, well, everyone will immediately be asking awkward questions.

The child isn’t born yet, but Alice is supposed to deliver around Christmas (John has known for at least six months, he just ‘didn’t get around to’ telling Jane until now) so we don’t know about paternity for sure, yet. And maybe Alice will change her mind about the name, too, fingers crossed.

If John tries to sell you a bridge in Brooklyn, resist.

Whether he wants to acknowledge paternity is not (in very many states) up to him if the mother requests a paternity decision in family court in pursuit of parental support. The child, if established by paternity testing to be his, is entitled to equal support, so yes, that will effect the wife’s and marital children’s lifestyle. The father should of thought of that. It is only an opinion of mine, but it is regrettable that the wife begrudges a child support from it’s father-begrudge the dad plenty, but the child is as innocent as the marital children. Of course, if the birth mother pursues legal paternity she also has to allow the father his parental rights of visitation and shared custody. He has his rights, which he can exercise whether or not he pays child support. Sounds like the kid might be better off without the money.

The Massachusetts child support guidelines and calculator to estimate how much John is going to have to pay. (This is the 2018 version; a new version is being prepared but has not yet been adopted. There will likely be minor variations but no huge changes.)

Alice (generally) can’t put his name down as the father on the birth certificate without John’s cooperation or a court order, but starting a paternity action is easy: the state will help her (and if she’s receiving any kind of welfare, including Medicaid to pay expenses of childbirth, the state will most likely require her to file a paternity action). Then the court will require John to submit to a paternity test.

Alice can give the child any surname she wants, including John’s. (See here for a PDF pamphlet from Massachusetts Legal Aid.)

As others have said, this will vary considerably from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. For example, in Canada the mom can’t keep dad off the birth certificate if he wants his name on it.

Thanks for the links, I’ve passed them along to “Jane”, so she can maybe get a grip on what’s going to happen.

I don’t know enough about the financial details to make any use of the worksheets but some other googling came up with monthly amounts around $1000 being ‘not unusual’ for people with middle class incomes. Which made me think: $1000 X 12 mo/yr X 18 yrs = $216,000. For what he claimed was ‘just a couple of times.’ Wow, pretty damn expensive ‘indulgence,’ eh?

If you think child support is expensive, do the math on the kids you have with the person you stay married to until after they’re launched.

It gets even better if you run the numbers on raising them by yourself without child support.

Yeah - No matter how you & the other parent slice it, kids are a very expensive hobby that’s deceptively easy to start into with insufficient planning.

I’d suggest changing the title of this thread to …child of unmarried parents. It’s not like the woman became pregnant all by herself.

Well, one of the parents IS married, just not to the other parent.

You got me there. I refuse to call the child illegitimate. Do you have a suggestion?

child of unmarried parents.