Paternity is the establishment of the identity of a child's legal father. This often occurs through the use of genetic testing.

The Paternity sub-section of FindLaw's Family Law Center can provide you with the methods of establishing paternity and the legal effects of fatherhood. This section discusses the legal concept of parentage and explains the key administrative and court proceedings.

The articles in this section provide state-specific information on paternity laws and procedures. You will find information on establishing paternity, challenging paternity, and types of paternity tests. You will find links to paternity forms and resources, and more.

Not every family begins in the traditional way. There are times when we need to identify a child's biological father. Paternity establishment will be a major factor in cases involving child support, child custody, adoption, and inheritance.

Establishing paternity can help a mother establish a child support order. It may also help estranged fathers establish a court order of child custody or parenting time.

Paternity: Legal Definition

Black's Law Dictionary defines paternity as "the fact of being a father; the relationship of a father." Most states today refer to paternity as the legal establishment of the identity of the father of a child. States may use the term "biological father of a child" or "natural" father of the child. In the end, paternity tells us the legal father of a child.

Paternity: Legal and Other Effects

Some legal effects of paternity are obvious, like liability for a share of the child support. Other effects are not so apparent, such as the right of a father asserting paternity to refuse consent to an adoption. A father claiming paternity can also gain child custody and visitation rights.

Paternity is equally important for the child's mother, who may be able to secure financial support for the child. At the same time, the family court may now require her to share child custody and parenting time with the father.

For the child, establishing paternity could provide the child with legal rights, including access to worker's compensation, veteran's benefits, or survivor benefits of the father. Paternity may provide a child with rights to inheritance. Paternity can also grant rights to a child for social security benefits, health insurance, and public assistance through the child's father. Knowing the biological father of a child can provide relevant medical history from the father's side of the family. Contact and emotional support from both parents can also provide other positive outcomes in a child's life.

How Do You Establish Paternity?

Paternity can be established either voluntarily or involuntarily.

In most circumstances, the presumption is that married parents are the biological parents of a child born during the marriage. When a married mother gives birth, the law sets forth a presumption that her husband is the father of the child. The husband does not need to file a paternity action to establish his parentage. In the same way, the parental rights of a married couple are also presumed.

The law does not recognize unmarried parents in the same way. When an unmarried mother gives birth, there is generally no presumption of paternity. The mother becomes the custodial parent and gains physical custody of the child. A man who claims to be the father may sign a voluntary acknowledgment of paternity affidavit. If he does so, he may legally bind himself and become a presumed father. This is also known as a putative father. A man may also become a putative father when he marries or attempts to marry the mother during the pregnancy or soon afterward. In some circumstances, a man who welcomes the child into his home and cultivates a close parent-child relationship may also become a putative father.

Paternity can also occur when a parent or the state files a paternity case in court. Depending on state law, a paternity action may be initiated in an administrative proceeding or in family court. A paternity action can require the putative father or an alleged father to appear and submit to DNA testing. The father will submit blood or saliva for DNA testing to determine a match with the child. If DNA test results confirm that the putative father is the biological father, the court can issue a paternity order. Upon issuing the paternity order, the court will help correct the child's birth certificate by adding the father's name. If the paternity case also sought to establish parental rights, the court may proceed in that direction as well.

Hiring a Family Law Attorney

Sometimes, establishing paternity can be emotionally and legally complex. Whether you are a mother seeking to gain support from the other parent of a child or an alleged father responding to a lawsuit, it makes sense to seek legal advice. An experienced family law attorney can help you understand your rights and responsibilities, as well as the legal procedures and consequences of establishing paternity.

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