In almost all states, the father of a child is the one named on the child's birth certificate. For married parents, the husband is the presumptive father. For unmarried parents, or if another individual claims paternity, state laws have procedures for establishing paternity.
The mother of a child may file paternity proceedings seeking child support from the presumed father. However, there are other reasons the father of a child may want a judgment of paternity.
- Child custody and visitation rights: The alleged father must prove they have legal rights to custody arrangements with the child
- Parent-child relationship: The legal father can provide health insurance and financial support, gain access to school and other vital records, and be part of the child's life without other restrictions
States have various methods of establishing paternity. The list below provides links to state agencies that can assist parents in filing documents to open a paternity case to obtain a judgment of paternity. For general information on paternity law, see FindLaw's Paternity section.
Some useful terms you should know:
- Biological father of a child: The one who fathered the child, whether married to the mother or not
- Genetic testing: Also called DNA testing or a paternity test. A presumed father may submit to a test, or a birth mother can request a court order during court proceedings to establish paternity
- Order of paternity: A legal document establishing the paternity of a child
- Paternity affidavit: An affirmation under oath made by the legal father confirming parentage. The father may sign this at the time of birth or later
- Voluntary acknowledgment of paternity: Like a paternity affidavit, the father acknowledges paternity at or after the child's birth
- Paternity (Arkansas Dept. of Finance & Admin.)
District of Columbia
- Paternity (Hawai'i State Child Support Enforcement Agency)
- Paternity (Minnesota Judicial Branch Self-Help Center)
Need More Paternity Information for Your State? Reach Out to an Attorney
Determining paternity may be as easy as getting a DNA test. If a woman seeks a child support order, she needs to go to family court and prove the father is the legal parent through a paternity action. That may require a court order for a paternity test to receive an order of paternity. In that case, the respondent father may challenge the test results to avoid child support obligations or other financial support obligations for the child, such as providing health care. Not all parents want to exercise parental rights or have legal rights to the child.
If you need assistance with filing a paternity action or with other family law matters, help is available. Learn more about the paternity laws in your state by speaking with a local family law attorney.