Can an unmarried parent be ordered to pay child support?

The right of child support shared by both parents is considered fundamentally important to public policy. As such, in almost every situation a biologial parent can and will be ordered to pay child support regardless of marital status. There are only a few very limited exceptions to the child support rule, such as in the case of sperm donation, or situations where parental rights are relinquished. 

Understanding Child Support Rules

There is a very strong presumption in favor of making parents pay child support for the care and upkeep of their children, in part as an effort to keep those children and families from becoming dependent on government aid such as welfare. In fact, the presumption in favor of requiring child support is so strong that one Louisiana case, State of Louisiana v. Frisard, actually ordered a father to pay child support although the mother had allegedly collected his sperm from an act of oral sex and used it to impregnate herself without his consent. 

Being married or not married, therefore, is irrelevant to a child support order determination, as is the question of whether you wanted the child or not. Even if you made it clear you did not want to have a child, the court can order you to pay support unless you are able to relinquish your parental rights. However, giving up parental rights is not as simple a matter as saying, "I want to give up my rights". The other parent must agree and the court needs to approve a petition allowing you to do so and only if it is in the best interests of the child (such as an adoption). 

Questioning Paternity in Child Support Cases

While you do have to pay child support regardless of marital status, you also have the right to question paternity if you have a legitimate belief that the child is not yours. The court can order a test for paternity upon your request when an unmarried mother seeks child support and you will only be ordered to pay support if DNA evidence proves that you are the father of the child. 

In addition to a suit by the custodial parent seeking child support, paternity actions to recover the cost to government for payment of Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC or "welfare") are also commonly brought by local government agencies. Government agencies, such as the Office of the District Attorney, hold a parent responsible for child support, even when s/he has never been married to the other parent.