Just because two parents live in different states does not mean that a mother is barred from pursuing a paternity action. If there is some basis for your state to have authority over the case--for example, if the father of the child has previously lived in your state or if the child was conceived in your state--you can likely file the action in your state court system. In many cases, courts may require genetic testing in order to help prove paternity.

The easiest way to establish paternity, of course, is to have the father’s name listed on the birth certificate when the child is born. There are also Voluntary Acknowledgment of Paternity forms available to sign at the hospital at the time of the child’s birth. However, if you have missed this opportunity, there are other ways that you can establish paternity of the child at a later time.

How Can Administrative Agencies Help Establish Paternity?

Some administrative agencies (such as Child Support Enforcement) can help you during the beginning stages of a paternity action. Most of these agencies provide assistance with filling out forms and getting DNA tests ordered to establish the identity of the child’s father.

How Can Court Orders Establish Paternity?

The strongest method of establishing paternity after the child is born is most likely a court order. In order to obtain that court order, you will need to file a petition with your local court. The court will consider evidence in the case in order to determine paternity--including whether the father has already been listed on the child’s birth certificate and the results of DNA testing.

Why is Paternity Important?

Well, for one thing, it helps to protect certain rights that the parents have regarding the child. Establishing paternity reduces the chances that a court will deny the father custody or visitation (or other rights that parents are legally entitled to). It also helps ensure that the child is eligible to receive certain benefits through the father, like health, disability, or life insurance benefits. 

Another important reason to establish paternity as soon as possible: child support. The court cannot order a person to pay child support until paternity has been determined. Parents are legally responsible for their children, and even if the father is not interested in having custody of the child, he still remains responsible for child support.

What if Paternity is Established in Another State?

States are required to give what is known as “full faith and credit” to judgments entered in other states. If paternity has been established in one state, but you live in a different state, a child support order can also be entered in your state.

What if My Child’s Father is on a Military Base Overseas?

You can still work to establish paternity even if your child’s alleged father is overseas on a military assignment. The mother can apply for child enforcement services at a local child support enforcement agency’s office.

This, of course, is just the first step. What happens next depends on how willing the father of the child is to establish paternity. If the child’s father is willing to sign documents to acknowledge paternity and agrees to support the child, then a wage withholding order can be entered to ensure enforcement of child support. 

If, however, the father is on a naval ship or lives on a military base overseas, and does not willingly acknowledge paternity, you may be stuck waiting until he returns to the US to have genetic testing done to prove his paternity.

What if My Child’s Father Purposely Leaves the State to Avoid a Paternity Judgment?

If the father does not respond to the formal complaint for paternity (properly served on him), the court can enter a default judgment against him that legally establishes him as the father. At the same time, a court order for child support can be entered as well. 

If the father has disappeared without a trace, there are state and federal Parent Locator Services that you can call upon to help find him. Be prepared to provide information about the father’s appearance, like any identifying markers such as tattoos or scars, as well as the father’s last known address and place of employment. It is important to give as much information as possible.

As we’ve mentioned before, states must give full faith and credit to paternity determinations made by other states in accordance with their laws and regulations, so leaving the state does not absolve the father of his responsibilities.

Do I Need a Family Law Attorney to Establish Paternity for a Father Who is Out-of-State?

Paternity and child support can be difficult issues, and get emotional quickly. It is in your best interests to talk to a qualified family law attorney about your situation to get the best advice. An experienced attorney will be able to help you establish paternity for your child, even if the father of the child is out of state.Your attorney can also help you navigate the legal system and protect your rights as you seek the best possible outcome for your case.