In law, paternity is the legal claim that establishes the relationship that a father, or a presumed father, has to a child. A court can determine whether or not an individual is the legal father to a child and establish their parental rights.

Paternity law can be a complex and sensitive legal area that affects the lives of the child or children involved as well as their parents. The courts try to keep the best interest of the child in the forefront when determining such matters.

How is Paternity Established?

Paternity laws vary from state-to-state. Most often, paternity is presumed via voluntary measures and does not resort to scientific DNA testing. Depending on the jurisdiction, paternity can be established in several ways, many of which are voluntary on the part of the father wherein the father is presumed.

Examples include:

  • Listing the father’s name on the child’s birth certificate;
  • If the father’s name is not included on the child’s birth certificate, the father can subsequently sign an affidavit of paternity (some states may have time limits on completion of the affidavit);
  • The father is married to the child’s birth mother;
  • The father treats the child as the father’s own child and provides for the child; and/or,
  • The child lives with the father and the father cares for and provides for the child.

There are other instances where a legal action has to be pursued to determine a child’s father. A paternity case of this nature often occurs where the father or alleged father is non-cooperative and the court must step in to assist. Under these types of circumstances, a court will typically order the father in question to submit to a DNA test.

The DNA test is a scientific tool that can be used to connect the genetic relations between individuals. In the case of a DNA paternity test, the results will conclude whether an individual is the father of the child in question. In some jurisdictions, if the alleged father refuses to submit to a DNA test, the court may deem that individual as the father by default.

Why is Establishing Paternity Important?

People are motivated by different reasons to establish paternity.

Some of the reasons establishing paternity is important can include:

  • The child will have legal rights to benefits and support from the father;
  • The child will know who their father is and may be able to establish a relationship with their father as well as other family members;
  • The father may not have been aware of the child’s existence and wants to be involved with the child and have visitation rights if the father is in-fact their parent; and/or,
  • The medical history and background of the father is an important link that the child may want to know about.

There are also situations wherein an individual that is not a biological parent may be considered to be a de facto parent by a court of law. This can occur when a couple decides to go their separate ways and one of them is the biological parent to a child while the other person is not biologically related to the child. If the couple raised the child together and the non-biological parent-figure stepped in as if the child were their own, courts will consider the case and may grant the non-biological ‘parent’ a de facto parent status.

This status allows for the non-biological parent to have legal rights to continue to be part of the child’s life. De facto parentage laws may not exist in all states and vary in the states that do acknowledge it.

Can Paternity be Challenged?

Paternity cases can be challenged or contested. As noted above, a court can order a DNA test to determine if the alleged father is in-fact the biological father. Aside from the paternity determination, the goal of the court-ordered DNA test is typically to assign financial assistance for the child’s upbringing. If an alleged father believes that they are not in-fact the child’s father, they may challenge the allegations and also request a DNA test to prove otherwise.

Should I Call an Attorney Regarding my Paternity Matter?

Establishing whether or not someone has paternity rights and responsibilities has lifelong consequences for all parties involved. No matter if you are someone attempting to prove or disprove paternity, a single parent seeking support from a former spouse or partner, a guardian of a minor seeking support for the child, an adult ‘child’ seeking to establish their father’s paternity, or any other scenario wherein paternity establishment is warranted, it is important to work with an experienced and knowledgeable family lawyer in your area.

Paternity matters can be emotionally charged, which oftentimes makes it difficult for the parties involved to make sound decisions. A paternity law attorney can guide you through the process and present you with the legal options available to you.