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Pennsylvania Paternity Laws

There are numerous reasons why someone would want to establish the paternity of a child. The individual could be the father of the child, the mother of the child, or even a child who needs to know for health issues or for legal issues such as obtaining government benefits. The legal definition of "father" varies in every state, but generally there's a presumption that, in a marriage, the husband is the father of any children born within that marriage. This presumption can be overcome by a court based on the conclusions of experts and paternity testing results showing that the husband is not the father. For children born outside of marriage, establishing paternity can lay the groundwork for child support and visitation.

The Significance of Establishing Paternity

It's important to establish paternity for legal reasons beyond merely having the father's name on the birth certificate. Certain rights for the father and the child are triggered with a determination of paternity, including inheritance, child support, and visitation and custody rights.

In Pennsylvania, paternity is established in the following ways:

  • If the parents of a child born out of wedlock have married each other;
  • If during the lifetime of the child, it's determined by clear and convincing evidence that the father holds out the child to be his and either receives the child into his home or provides support to the child; or
  • If there's clear and convincing evidence that the man was the father of the child, including a prior court determination of paternity.

Pennsylvania Paternity Laws at a Glance

For a complete picture of the law, it's vital to know every facet of the statute, but it also helps to gain understanding from a clear and concise explanation of the law. See the chart below for a summary of the law that comprises Pennsylvania's paternity laws.


  • 23 Pa. C.S.A. Domestic Relations Section 5102 (children declared to be legitimate)
  • 23 Pa. C.S.A. Domestic Relations Section 5103 (acknowledgment and claim of paternity)
  • 23 Pa. C.S.A. Domestic Relations Section 5104 (blood tests to determine paternity)

Involuntary Paternity

When the paternity is in dispute, the issue is resolved through the court in a civil action.

Legal standard: Burden of proof required is by a preponderance of the evidence.

Genetic Testing

  • If any party to a paternity action requests it, the court requires the child and the parties to submit to genetic tests.
  • The court will obtain an additional test if any party (who contests the initial test) requests it and submits advanced payment.

Voluntary Paternity

Acknowledgement of Paternity

  • A father of a child born to an unmarried woman may file an acknowledgement of paternity with the consent of the mother of the child, supported by her witnessed statement.
  • With this action, the father has all the same rights and responsibilities that he would've had if he had been married to the mother of the child at the time of the child's birth.

Claim of Paternity

  • If the mother fails or refuses to join in the acknowledgment of paternity, the Dept. of Public Welfare considers it a claim of paternity.
  • This action doesn't give the putative father any parental rights related to the child except the right to notice of any action to terminate any parental rights related to the child.

Note: State laws are always subject to change through the passage of new legislation, rulings in the higher courts (including federal decisions), ballot initiatives, and other means. While we strive to provide the most current information available, please consult an attorney or conduct your own legal research to verify the state law(s) you are researching.

Pennsylvania Paternity Laws: Related Resources

Talk to an Attorney About Your Pennsylvania Paternity Issue

Pennsylvania's paternity laws play an important role in helping to establish the identity of a child's father. If your paternity status is unresolved or you need any clarification about paternity laws, talk to an experienced family law attorney today to learn more about your rights and responsibilities under the law.

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