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What is a Paternity Suit?

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By Jason Beahm on June 23, 2010 1:07 PM

Porn actress Devon James has filed a paternity suit against Tiger Woods in Manatee County, Florida. James is one of hundreds of alleged mistresses of Tiger Woods and has asked a judge to determine the paternity of Austin Brinling, her 9 year old son. The handwritten lawsuit was filed under James' legal name, Melinda Jannette.

TMZ obtained the petition and several documents attached to it. The petition states that it is an action for paternity and to determine parental responsibility, time-sharing and/or child support.

LawBrain.com defines a "Paternity Suit" as civil action brought against an unwed father by an unmarried mother to obtain support for an illegitimate child and for payment of bills incident to the pregnancy and the birth. Paternity issues often arise in cases involving affairs, such as in Tiger Woods situation. General paternity actions involve questions of child support, adoption, inheritance, custody, visitation and health care.

Most states require that paternity be established by a "preponderance of the evidence," meaning that the mother must simply prove that it is more likely than not that the man is the father of the illegitimate child. However other states, such as New York, apply a higher standard, requiring clear and convincing evidence of paternity. However due to the advances in scientific testing, paternity can be determined with great precision making the varying standards of evidence largely academic. 

If the man is found to be the father of the child, he will likely be ordered to pay child support. Questions of custody must then be worked out, with the child generally remaining with the mother as long as she is providing reasonable care. The father is entitled to visitiation rights absent specific reasons to revoke it. 

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