Paternity establishment

What is Paternity?Paternity means fatherhood. When a married woman gives birth, her husband is presumed to be the father of the child. When a child is born outside of marriage, the father of the child does not automatically have the same rights and responsibilities as the father of a child born in marriage. The law allows the mother, child, father or State to legally establish that a man is the father of a child. When this occurs, the child’s paternity has been established.  

Why is it important to establish paternity?Paternity establishment is important for many reasons. Some include: SUPPORT The law requires both parents to support their child. This is true even when parents are not married to each other. MEDICAL A child may need to know if she/he has inherited any special health problems. In case a child or parent needs a donor for a transplant, knowing who the members of the immediate family are is important. CITIZENSHIP Parents provide the child with citizenship and/or nationality. If one parent was not born in the
United States, his/her place of origin may provide important rights to the child. BENEFITS Without paternity establishment, a child is not legally entitled to any of his/her father’s benefits including: Social Security insurance benefits, inheritance rights, veteran’s and other benefits. RIGHTS When paternity is established, the father has the same rights as a father of a child in a marriage. These include such rights as the ability to address custody and visitation issues with the court, and to give other input into decisions regarding the child.  

How can unmarried parents establish paternity?There are two ways:

  • The mother, father, child or the State may file a legal action to declare that a man is the father of a child who was born outside of a marriage. This can be done judicially (in court) or administratively  and normally involves genetic testing.
  • Parents can sign a Voluntary Declaration of Paternity form and file this declaration with the Department of Health, Vital Records and Statistics. When a Voluntary Declaration of Paternity form is signed by the child’s mother AND father, and the form is witnessed by two individuals that are not related to you and filed with Vital Records and Statistics, paternity is established. If the father is under 18, his parent or guardian must also sign the form.

How do I know if I should sign a Voluntary Declaration of Paternity?A mother or father of a child born outside of marriage is not required to sign a Voluntary Declaration of Paternity. If the Declaration is signed, it is legally binding on the mother and the father. A Voluntary Declaration should not be signed if: ·         The mother is married, her husband is not the father of the child and the husband, the mother and the father of the child are not all willing to sign the Voluntary Declaration form; ·         The mother or alleged father is not certain the alleged father is the child’s father; or, ·         Either parent does not understand the legal consequences of signing the form  

What does paternity establishment have to do with child support?When paternity is established, by the proper filing of a Voluntary Declaration of Paternity form, by a court order or by an administrative order, the father has a legal obligation to support his child. Because both parents must support a child, even when they do not live together, the parent without physical custody of the child is required to pay a set amount of monthly support to the parent with physical custody of the child.   How does the administrative process work to establish paternity and child support?Parents involved in an administrative action with the Office of Recovery Services are served with a Notice of Agency Action. The Notice of Agency Action lists specific information about the case, proposed child support amounts and information about medical insurance coverage. The Notice of Agency Action  also lists the options available to each parent after they receive the Notice.If paternity needs to be established, the Notice of Agency Action will either contain an appointment date for genetic tests, or instructions for how the parent can request genetic tests from the Office of Recovery Services. If either parent is not certain that the father listed in the Notice is in fact the biological father of the child, it is very important to conduct genetic testing, BEFORE paternity is legally established. In most circumstances, genetic testing will be provided to you at no charge when you have an open case with the Office of Recovery Services.  After the appropriate time frame for the parents to exercise the options in the Notice of Agency Action has passed, an order will be issued that legally establishes paternity, a child support obligation, and a provision for medical insurance coverage. What about custody and visitation?Custody and visitation issues should be addressed in a court order. This must be done even if paternity was established by a Voluntary Declaration of Paternity or an administrative order.  Both parents have the right to ask the court for custody. If parents cannot agree on visitation issues, the court will decide these issues as well. Federal law does not permit the Office of Recovery Services to use federal child support funding for purposes of establishing or enforcing custody and visitation issues. If someone says you are the father of a child, how can you make sure that you really are?You should not sign the Voluntary Declaration of Paternity form if you have any doubts about whether you are the father of a child. There are very accurate genetic tests available which will absolutely exclude you if you are not the father.  If you have an open child support case with the Office of Recovery Services, you may request genetic testing (usually at no charge) at any time before paternity and a child support order are established.  Establishing paternity is the critical first step in collecting child support. When legal paternity is established, a child has the right to the father’s Social Security or veteran’s benefits, medical coverage, pensions and inheritance. Also, the medical genetic information of both parents is available for the child if needed for diagnosis and treatment of medical problems.

A typical state statute in this regard reads:

“A man shall be presumed to be the natural father of a child if:

(1) He and the child’s natural mother are or have been married to each other and

the child is born during the marriage, or within 300 days after the marriage is

terminated by death, annulment, declaration of invalidity, or dissolution, or

after a decree of separation is entered by a court; or

(2) Before the child’s birth he and the child’s natural mother have attempted to

marry each other by a marriage solemnized in apparent compliance with the

law, although the attempted marriage is or may be declared invalid, and:

(a) If the attempted marriage may be declared invalid only by a court, the

child is born during the attempted marriage or within 300 days after its

termination by death, annulment, declaration of invalidity or dissolution;

or

2

(b) If the marriage is invalid without a court order, the child is born within

300 days after the termination of cohabitation; or

(2) After the child’s birth, he and the child’s natural mother have married or

attempted to marry each other by a marriage solemnized in apparent

compliance with the law, although the marriage is or may be declared invalid,

and:

(a) He has acknowledged his paternity of the child in writing and filed

with the bureau [of vital statistics]; or

(b) With his consent he is named as the child’s father on the child’s birth

certificate; or

(c) He is obligated to support the child pursuant to a written voluntary

promise or court order.

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