How a Man Can Prove Paternity of a Child

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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Written by Jeffrey Johnson
Insurance Lawyer Jeffrey Johnson

UPDATED: Jul 16, 2021

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Paternity entitles a man to act as a child’s parent and seek custody. “Father status” also imposes obligations, such as that of child support.

Uncontested Paternity Rights

If the man is married to the mother at the time of conception or birth, then the law assumes that he is the father and his name will be on the birth certificate. Some states allow this presumption to challenged under certain conditions, such as if the husband denies paternity and another man claims to be the father.

If you were not married, then both you and the mother can sign a form in which you both admit that you are in fact the father. This are sometimes called an “affidavit of parentage.” In some states, signing this form creates a legal finding of paternity and no legal action is needed. This document is filed with a state agency, usually the agency that issues birth certificates. Once the forms are filed, a new or amended birth certificate is issued. This process is usually very simple and the form is most often available at hospitals with maternity wards, social services offices, and new baby clinics.

Contested Paternity Rights

The mother-father acknowledgment process is rarely challenged, but there are circumstances when this can occur. For example, if a newborn baby is being placed for adoption and the judge suspects that the named father is not the father for any reason (e.g. – s/he suspects the man is simply doing the mother a favor), a paternity test can be ordered.

In a contested adoption situation, if there is any possibility that the man claiming to be the father is opposing the adoption, then the court will order the adoption agency or adopter(s) to make the child available for DNA testing.

DNA tests are considered to be very reliable; this is why courts and government agencies use them as conclusive proof of paternity in most situations. If a man is claiming paternity and the mother denies that he is the father or questions it, a court will almost always order the mother to make herself and the child available for DNA testing. If the mother refuses, then the court is allowed to declare the man to be the father, assuming that there is no factual evidence that would preclude such a result (e.g. – the father was in jail during the time the woman should have conceived). DNA testing is reliable even if only the father and the child are tested.

Petitioning for a Court Order Declaring Paternity Rights 

When the mother is unwilling to admit that a man is the father, then he must petition the court for an order declaring him to be the father. He must first determine which state has jurisdiction over paternity. This is usually the state where the child lives, but it can sometimes be where the child was born or where the mother became pregnant.

Wherever jurisdiction is held, a man must file his petition as soon as possible after the birth of child, especially if he suspects the mother will hide the baby or place the child for adoption. Once the petition is filed, the mother needs to be given a copy of the court papers and given time to reply. If she opposes paternity and it is factually possible that the man could be the father, then the court will order DNA testing. The test results will determine the outcome of the case.

Birth Certificates, Registers, and Declarations of Paternity

There is a close relationship between paternity and putting a man’s name on the birth certificate. States have a way of amending the birth certificate after they are issued but usually will add a father’s name to the birth certificate without the mother’s agreement only if there is a court order or a DNA test.

Men also need to know that many but not all states have what are known as “paternity registers”. A man can place his name on such a register if he knows or thinks he may be the father of a child. Usually the man registers in the state where the woman will give birth (if that state has a register) and must do so before the child is born or within a short time after the birth date. Registers are used by courts and agencies involved in adoptions.

No matter what, any man who knows he is the father of a child should should put in writing a declaration that he is the father. While this may not by itself create paternity in all situations, in many states it helps create a presumption of paternity that will stand unless opposed and disproven. Also, in some cases, the man’s attitude and behavior toward the child (and the mother during the pregnancy) can have legal significance. Therefore he will ideally be ready to present evidence that he acted as if he was the father.

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