How Is Paternity Established in Divorce Court?

A toy seesaw.In an Iowa divorce, the husband of a child’s mother is presumed to be the child’s biological father. This presumption can be disproven through DNA testing, and it can sometimes be disproven if the mother and her husband agree in writing that the husband is not the father of the child.

Establishing Paternity in Iowa

Although the basic principles of establishing paternity in Iowa can be simply stated, in real life, the issue often becomes complex. The following is a more detailed description of the three main ways that paternity is established in an Iowa divorce.

The marriage presumption

In Iowa, the man who was married to the child’s mother on the date that the child was born is presumed to be the father, even if his name does not appear on the birth certificate. This presumption makes the husband the legal father of the child, regardless of whether he is the biological father – unless one of the other two means of establishing paternity defeats this presumption.


The divorcing husband and wife can sometimes agree in writing that the husband is not the father of the child. In response, a court is quite likely to order DNA testing.

DNA testing

DNA is present in all of the body’s cells, and a child’s DNA is a mixture of the DNA of both parents. Scientists consider a child’s DNA profile to be something like a genetic fingerprint, although statistically, it is much more unique than even a fingerprint.

DNA testing is the most accurate means of determining the identity of a child’s father, provided that it is possible to secure DNA samples from both father and child. DNA testing can establish paternity with up to 99.9 percent accuracy, and it can disestablish paternity with up to 100 percent accuracy. Testing can be petitioned for by either parent, or it can be initiated by the court on its own initiative.

How is DNA testing carried out?

DNA testing is carried out in a laboratory, using a small amount of body fluid or tissue taken from the child and the putative father – typically, the blood or the buccal cells inside the cheek. The genetic code embedded in these DNA samples can be examined by an expert for similarities and differences, thereby establishing or disestablishing paternity.


John and Jane Doe are divorcing. They have been married for five years and they are contesting liability for child support payments for their three-year-old girl, Jasmine. Since John was married to Jane on the day that Jasmine was born, he is presumed to be Jasmine’s father. Therefore, without more evidence, he will be held liable for child support payments.

John does not wish to pay child support because he believes that he is not the biological father of Jasmine. In fact, it is this belief that prompted him to file for divorce in the first place. John has two main options to disestablish his paternity: DNA testing or written agreement. If he does not or cannot disestablish paternity using one of these methods, he will be treated as the legal father of the child and will be expected to pay child support.

Procedure for Disestablishing Paternity

In a divorce case in which the child was born during the marriage, the putative father can file Form 213: Motion to Disestablish Paternity with the court. The requirements for an action to disestablish paternity are:

  • Iowa must have proper jurisdiction – The original paternity determination must have been made in Iowa or, if the original paternity order was made in another state, it must have been registered in Iowa, and the child and one of the parents must be a resident of Iowa;
  • The child must be under 18 years of age (so that child support payments will be an issue in dispute);
  • The court must appoint an attorney (called a guardian ad litem in this case) for the child; and
  • If the original paternity determination was established by written agreement between husband and wife, the court must find that the agreement was based on fraud, duress, or mistake.

The Iowa Child Support Recovery Unit (CSRU), DNA Testing and Default Paternity Judgments

If the paternity of a child is called into question at the request of either the mother or the putative father, the CSRU will notify the putative father to submit to DNA testing by a certain deadline (by allowing blood or buccal swab sample to be taken, for example). If he cooperates, paternity will be established or disestablished based on the result of the DNA test. If he fails to cooperate, the court will enter a default order identifying him as the legal father of the child.

Interpretation of the Results of DNA Testing

Under Iowa paternity law, if an expert determines that DNA testing results support the claim that the putative father is the biological father of the child with 95 percent or greater certainty, a legal presumption arises that the putative father is the real father.

Such a determination puts the putative father in the position of having to prove that he is not the child’s father with “clear and convincing evidence,” which is a standard of proof that is higher than the standard that is normally used in divorce proceedings.

Consequences of Disestablishing Paternity

In divorce cases where both custody and paternity are both issues, keep this in mind: If DNA testing disestablishes the paternity of the putative father, the putative father will also lose the right to custody of the child. Indeed, he will lose the right to see the child at all without permission from the child’s legal parents.

The following are the consequences for (formerly) putative father’s child support payment obligations:

  • It is not possible to recover any child support that has already been paid.
  • Any past due child support payments will be considered paid in full.
  • All future child support obligations will be canceled.

Contact 303 Legal, P.C. Today

At 303 Legal, we fight relentlessly for the best interests of our clients. Our attorneys possess decades of combined experience handling family law matters, including paternity determinations. To us, you are a person, not a case number, and every detail of your case matters.

Don’t hesitate to retain us to help you fight for the justice you deserve, because we will be at your side every step of the way. We look forward to hearing from you soon.