Establishing paternity refers to the legal process of determining the biological father of a child. This is usually done when the parents are unmarried, and the father’s name is not on the child’s birth certificate. There are several ways to establish paternity, including:
- Voluntary acknowledgment: Both parents can sign a voluntary acknowledgment of paternity form, which acknowledges that the man is the biological father of the child.
- Court order: A court can order genetic testing to establish paternity. The court may also order paternity testing if either parent contests paternity.
- Administrative order: An administrative order can establish paternity without going to court. This process is typically used when the mother is receiving public assistance, and the state needs to establish paternity to seek child support from the father.
Once paternity is established, the father may be required to pay child support and may have legal rights and responsibilities regarding the child, such as visitation and decision-making authority.
Paternity can also be established at a court or administrative hearing or by default if the man was served notice of a paternity hearing but did not appear. Parents are not required to apply for child support services when acknowledging paternity. An acknowledgment of paternity becomes a finding of paternity unless the man who signed the acknowledgment denies that he is the father within 60 days. Generally, this finding may be challenged only on the basis of fraud, duress, or material mistake of fact.
A father can acknowledge paternity by signing a written admission or voluntary acknowledgement of paternity. All states have programs that give unmarried parents the opportunity to acknowledge the father’s paternity of the newborn at the hospital. States must also help parents acknowledge paternity up until the child’s eighteenth birthday through vital records offices or other offices designated by the state.
It is important to establish paternity as early as possible. While child support offices must try to establish paternity up to the child’s eighteenth birthday, it is best to do it as soon as possible after the child’s birth.
If it becomes necessary to seek child support, a finding of paternity creates the basis for the obligation to provide support. A support order cannot be established for a child who is born to unmarried parents until paternity has been established.
Even if the parents plan to marry after their baby is born, establishing paternity helps to protect the relationship between the child and the father. If a man is not certain that he is the father, the child support agency can arrange for genetic testing. These tests are simple to take and highly accurate.
Once paternity is established legally, a child gains legal rights and privileges. Among these may be rights to inheritance, rights to the father’s medical and life insurance benefits, and rights to social security and possibly veterans’ benefits.
In addition to providing a basis for child support, paternity establishment can provide basic emotional, social, and economic ties between a father and his child. There are strong indications that children whose fathers take active roles in their upbringing lead more successful lives.