FAQs About Paternity
- What is paternity?
- What are the custody rights of an unwed father?
- What visitation rights will a judge give an unwed father?
- What if a married woman has a child and her husband is not the biological father?
- Why is it important to establish paternity?
- How can I tell if I am the father of the child?
- Can paternity be established for my child if the father lives in another state?
Paternity is fatherhood as legally established. A paternity action is a complaint filed in court to establish a particular person as the father of a child. A paternity action may be filed by either the mother or a man who thinks he is the father of a child. A man may be found to be the legal father even if he is not the biological father.
An unwed father has no custody rights until a Judge finds that he is the father. Even if the mother declares him the father or he acknowledges paternity and is on the birth certificate, he has no rights without a court order. The mother has sole custody until the matter goes to court. This means that the mother decides and controls contact between father and child.
Once a judge finds a man to be the father of a child the judge will make orders of custody or visitation the same as a married man in a divorce. Custody and visitation will be based on the best interests of the child.
When a married woman gives birth to a child her husband is presumed to be the father. This presumption can be rebutted in a paternity case as long as the case is brought within a reasonable period of time. If too much time passes and the child believes the husband is the father, the husband may be determined to be the psychological parent. In such a case the court could deny another man’s paternity case to be declared the father.
Paternity establishes rights of the child and the parents including:
- Financial obligations: Both parents have the obligation to support their child. After establishment of paternity child support will be ordered according to the child support guidelines.
- Custody and visitation: Once paternity is established custody and visitation will be ordered based on the best interests of the child. Shared legal custody can allow both parents to participate in important decisions for the child.
- Medical insurance: Once paternity is established the child can be added to the father’s insurance policy.
- Inheritance and benefits: Without a decree of paternity a child is not legally entitled to inherit from the father or receive any benefits from the father such as Social Security benefits, veteran’s benefits, and other entitlements.
- Citizenship: Upon birth a child obtains the citizenship of their parents. Depending on the nationality of the parents and the location of birth a child can have dual or even a trio of citizenships. This can benefit the child later in life.
DNA tests are considered the most reliable method of determining paternity. The test is usually done by collecting saliva with a cotton swab from the mouths of the mother, father, and child. The swabs are then sent to a lab and a report is returned with the results. In Massachusetts the tests can be done through a court-approved lab after a paternity action is filed.
The best way to establish paternity when the father lives in another state is through the Massachusetts Department of Revenue. They can file an action between the two states to establish paternity, establish child support, and collect the payments. The Department of Revenue does not charge for its services.
This memorandum is for general informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice or create an attorney-client relationship. The answers given above are based on Massachusetts law and practice and should not be considered as applicable to any other state. This website should not be considered a substitute for proper, individualized advice from an attorney.
Copyright (c) 2016 Alan J. Pransky, Esq.