Establishing Paternity

When a child is born to a married man and woman, the government automatically assumes the husband is the child's father. But when a child is born out of wedlock, the father does not necessarily have paternal rights. Establishing paternity is important so that the mother, father and child can all receive benefits. Either the father or the mother may want to establish the father's paternity.

Benefits of Establishing Paternity

The benefits of establishing paternity include:

  • The child has a right to the father's inheritance, health and life insurance, social security and veteran benefits (if any);
  • The child's doctor can have access to the father's medical records;
  • The mother may be entitled to child support money; and
  • The father will have custody and visitation rights, entitling him to a greater role in the child's life.

Voluntarily Establishing Paternity

A father can establish paternity voluntarily. One way to do this is to be present at the child's birth and sign a document called a declaration or acknowledgment of paternity. The precise form used for this will vary from state to state. Some states may also allow the father to sign the birth certificate.

If the father is not present at the birth, he may sign an affidavit of paternity at any time up to the child's 18th birthday. It's advisable to create this affidavit with a lawyer; the document will need to be signed in the presence of a notary. Send this document to the Vital Records agency of the state where the child was born. If the affidavit is sent in after the birth certificate is issued, the birth certificate may need to be amended to reflect paternity.

Involuntarily Establishing Paternity

Involuntarily establishing paternity takes place through Child Services Enforcement, or the CSE. The CSE encourages parents to establish the child's paternity as soon as possible after birth. Paternity may be established at any time up to the child's 18th birthday. Before you follow the CSE's procedure to establish paternity, always try to establish paternity voluntarily.

The process begins by sending your local CSE office a notarized affidavit, signed by the mother, attesting to the father's identity. CSE caseworkers will then begin the process of contacting the father, using records from federal agencies such as the IRS, the Social Security Administration and the Department of Defense. Once they locate the father, they will contact him and give him the opportunity to assent to paternity.

If he refuses, the CSE may then request that all parties (the mother, the possible father and the child) all take genetic tests, which the government pays for. If the father refuses the test, he may be assumed to be the father by default.

All parties will be informed of the results. If the father contests the results within 60 days, the CSE may request a second round of testing (at the father's expense). Otherwise, the results are treated as conclusive.

Once paternity is established, the CSE works with the family to determine child support payments and so forth.