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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.


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'm The Father? 

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, you may request genetic testing (sometimes at no charge) at any time before paternity and a child support order are established. 

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