How to Establish Legal Paternity

It is often important to legally establish a child’s paternity, whether or not the father will be involved in the child’s life. If a child is born to a married woman then the woman’s husband is automatically assumed to be the child’s father and it is his name that will go on the child’s birth certificate, unless either spouse contests the paternity. If the child is born to an unmarried woman then the issue of paternity must be legally established.
Uncontested Paternity
As stated above, if the child is born to a married couple and neither spouse contests the child’s paternity then the husband will automatically be named as the child’s father on the birth certificate. The parents need only complete the required paperwork for the issuance of the birth certificate which is typically done at the hospital when the baby is born.
Paternity for a child who is born to an unmarried mother is also easy to establish if neither parent contests the paternity. Most states require the parents to complete an Affidavit of Paternity if the mother and father agree on the identity of the child’s father. An Affidavit of Paternity must be completed according to the laws of the state in which the child was born. Some states, for example, require the Affidavit of Paternity to be notarized and then filed with the city or county clerk in the place of the child’s birth in order to be valid. Once the Affidavit of Paternity is filed the father’s name, as indicated on the Affidavit, will be added to the child’s birth certificate and the man becomes the legal father to the child.
Contested Paternity
For children whose paternity is contested, it is certainly more difficult to establish legal paternity but it is equally as important. Most states require a DNA test if either the mother or the alleged father contests a child’s paternity. Once the DNA test establishes paternity then an Affidavit of Paternity usually needs to be filed, as in cases of uncontested paternity.
Why It is Important to Legally Identify a Child’s Father
Whether contested or uncontested, it is important to legally establish a child’s paternity. Without a legal designation of paternity, a child has no rights to financial support while the father is living or to an inheritance when the father dies. Without a legal designation of paternity, a child has no legal right to be included on his or her father’s health insurance nor does the child have the right to demand access to the father’s health history should a medical need arise. Without a legal designation of paternity, the father has no right to visit the child nor to build a relationship with the child absent the mother’s consent.
While a legal designation of paternity does not guarantee a close father child relationship, it provides important legal benefits for the child. Therefore, it is important that a proper legal designation be made and appropriately designated on a child’s birth certificate or recorded with a court.

The information on this page is meant to provide a general overview of the law. The laws in your state and/or city may deviate significantly from those described here. If you have specific questions related to your situation you should speak with a local attorney.

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