How Do I Establish Paternity? 8

About: Paternity

What Options are Available to Legally Prove Fatherhood?

While the identity of the biological mother is always a given, the ability to identify the biological father (paternity) isn’t always assumed, especially in instances where the parents are not legally married.

For this reason, many fathers need to make an extra effort and establish legal paternity to ensure his rights and responsibilities as a parent are protected. Fortunately, this is fairly easy to do.

While the terminology and procedural steps may vary from state to state, there are generally three ways to legally establish paternity:

  1. Presumed – Paternity is presumed under the law when the parents are legally married and living together at the time the baby is born. Many states have a few additional requirements such as the father must “hold the child out” to the public as his son or daughter and/or that the parents must have been married for a specified time period before the birth. Check your state’s laws to learn more about your local requirements.
  2. Affidavit – When the parents are unmarried but paternity is uncontested, both parents may sign a formal statement that “declares” paternity. In some states, this is called an Affidavit of Paternity while other states refer to it as a Declaration of Paternity, but it’s essentially the same thing. Affidavits can typically be obtained from your local Health and Human Resources Department and in addition, many states now require hospitals to offer affidavits to the parents at the time of birth. To be binding, affidavits must be signed by both parents and notarized.
  3. Genetic Testing – If the paternity is contested by one or both of the parents, genetic testing can be performed to determine the biological father. This testing can often be ordered by the Department of Health and Human Resources and is typically considered binding by the court. If one or both of the parents refuse to abide by the request for testing by DHS, the court can issue an order for testing. Regardless of who issues the order, the court must “declare” the paternity and make any orders with regard to child support, custody and visitation.

For more on this topic, you may want to check out this book on the rights of unmarried parents. If you have specific paternity questions relating to your situation, we recommend that you contact an attorney.


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