The process of how to establish paternity of a child can be messy and complicated but it can also be vital, for both fathers and mothers. Unmarried fathers seeking custody or visitation often need to establish paternity in order to entrench their legal rights. In addition, mothers trying to obtain child support payments from deadbeat dads often need to establish legal paternity once they locate the father.
A father or mother should proceed according to the following steps in order to establish paternity of a child.
1. First of all, most state laws presume that a married man is the father of a child born by his wife. This is generally the case even if the baby is conceived before the marriage, and in some cases even if the baby is born after the end of the marriage. If no one challenges the baby’s paternity, the presumption is that the husband is the baby’s father. However, if another man challenges the child’s paternity, the presumption can be overcome by sufficient evidence.
2. Paternity can also be established when a man signs a voluntary declaration of paternity, or signs as the father on the baby’s birth certificate. In the case of unmarried couples, the voluntary declaration can clear up any questions about paternity. For married couples in which the child was born to a father who is not the husband, the new husband can still make the child legitimate by signing a voluntary declaration of paternity. This effectively gives the baby the same rights and recognition as a baby born while the couple is married.
3. If the biological father refuses to acknowledge paternity, a paternity suit can be filed to force the father to take a paternity test. In most states (including California), the public child support agency can file the paternity suit on the mother’s behalf at no cost. After the father has been served with the suit, a family court will usually order the father and child to undergo DNA testing to determine paternity. These tests are up to 99.9 percent accurate.
As with all areas of family law, the process of establishing or negating paternity can be emotional, contentious, and costly. Oftentimes, a mother needs to prove paternity in order to provide the basic essentials to her child and the rest of her family. On the flip side, few things could be more upsetting to a father than being told that his child is not actually his. In both cases, the parents should rely as much as possible on the system that is in place, and should obtain quality legal representation to help them through the process.