Establishing Paternity in a Divorce or Child Support Case
When the parents of a child are not married at the beginning of the pregnancy or at the birth of the child, the father is legally without the rights and responsibilities of a parent. The father, mother, or a third party on behalf of the child, must seek a declaration of paternity to legally establish a parent-child relationship with the father.
This process gives the father specific custodial rights while imposing upon him a legal obligation to provide specific financial support for the child. Select a topic for more information:
Out of Court
The easiest way to establish paternity is for both the mother and father to sign an affidavit stating the child is theirs. You and your partner may sign this affidavit at the hospital before the baby is discharged or at a local public health unit, the Department of Children and Families office, or the Child Support Enforcement office.
To further protect your rights, you also should consider filing an affidavit with your local department of vital statistics, putative father registry office, or other relevant state office.
Using the Court
The more difficult way is to get a court order establishing paternity.
- The non-custodial parent may sign legal documents establishing paternity and/or child support. This is called a stipulation or consent order. The court then adopts the stipulation or consent order in a final order.
- The court may hold a hearing to establish paternity and/or support.
Benefits of Establishing Paternity
By establishing paternity, you will give your child the rights and benefits enjoyed by children born to married parents:
- Legal proof of each parent’s identity.
- Information regarding family medical history (in case of inherited health problems).
- Medical or life insurance from either parent (if available).
- Financial support from both parents, including child support, Social Security, veterans benefits and military allowances (if applicable), and inheritance.
By establishing paternity, you also give yourself several legal rights:
- To seek a court order for child support.
- To seek a court order for custody or visitation.
- To have a say in certain legal decisions regarding the child.
The Father’s Rights and Responsibilities
By signing the affidavit, the mother and father confirm that he is the biological father of the child. The father’s signature also affirms that he will be responsible for the child’s financial and medical support until adulthood.
After establishing paternity, a court may order child support payments and medical insurance for the child, basing the amount of child support primarily on both parents’ incomes using guidelines set by state law.
The parents need to cooperate with the Child Support Enforcement authorities so children in need can receive help as quickly as possible. If a parent doesn’t cooperate, the case may close.
Challenging paternity must be done within certain time limits depending upon the state with jurisdiction over the child.