In the legal sense of the word, paternity describes the determination of a child’s father – including all of the father’s associated obligations and rights with respect to the child. When the court (or someone else) establishes a child’s paternity, it means the child now has a named, legal father.
Paternity and a birth certificate . . . When parents are married – to each other – at the time of the child’s birth, paternity is established automatically without further action. The mother’s husband is the legal father of the child; and his name is listed on the child’s birth certificate.
If a child is born to unmarried parents at the time of birth, the parties must establish paternity before the birth certificate lists the father’s name; and before the father maintains any legal rights related to the child.
Establishment of Paternity: Voluntary v. Court-Ordered
- Voluntary: If a child’s mother and father both agree that the man is, in fact, the child’s biological father, the parents may establish – voluntarily – the child’s paternity. To do so, both parents must complete and file a Voluntary Acknowledgement of Paternity; where after the father is legally “the father,” and his name is added to the child’s birth certificate.
- Court-Ordered: In Massachusetts, individuals typically commence paternity actions to obtain court orders regarding child support, custody, and/or visitation. Most often, the parties initiate the actions because:
- Divorce or separation proceedings are underway; and the father claims to suspect the child is not his; or
- The parents were unmarried at the child’s birth, or are presently, still not married to each other. (In MA, a parent is responsible for the financial support of a child born outside of wedlock until (a) the child is 18 if he or she does not attend college; or (b) if he or she does attend college, the age of 23).
In cases where people dispute paternity (perhaps because they do not want to bear the financial responsibility that accompanies fatherhood), the court may issue involuntary orders of paternity.
Generally, early on in the process of a paternity action, the court may order basic DNA tests of the child and “alleged” father. The court gives great deference to the results of DNA tests; and if a DNA match exists, the court will issue an order of paternity, naming the father as the child’s biological father.
Things to consider before initiating a paternity action.
There are many possible reasons for initiating a paternity action; but the decision to do so should not be taken lightly. Contact Attorney Rosanne Klovee today before initiating or agreeing to a paternity action. Attorney Klovee will discuss your legal options; and formulate a strategy that is best for your particular circumstances.