How to Establish Paternity


Men are not automatically guaranteed parental rights when a child is born out of wedlock. Paternity must be established in order to handle issues such as child support and even custody or visitation. Sometimes paternity is a matter of just signing a form. In other situations, paternity may be contested and will require a DNA test to establish.

Part 1
Declaring the Father’s Name on the Birth Certificate

Declaring the Father’s Name on the Birth Certificate on How to Establish Paternity

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If a child is born during marriage, the child is presumed to be the child of the husband and wife.[1] However, if the child is born to unmarried parents, then there is no “presumption” of who the father is. Paternity should be established because it will matter in a variety of situations. For example, the paternity of a child must be legally established to gain the following: financial support access to family medical records medical and life insurance coverage, if available social security or veteran’s benefits inheritance custody and visitation

Declaring the Father’s Name on the Birth Certificate on How to Establish Paternity

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Under federal law, all states are required to offer unwed parents an opportunity to establish paternity by voluntarily signing an acknowledgement of paternity, either at the hospital or at a later time. If the baby's father is at the birth, he can sign the birth certificate before leaving the hospital.

Declaring the Father’s Name on the Birth Certificate on How to Establish Paternity

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You will be liable for child support payments until you can prove (usually through a DNA test) that you are not the biological father. It can be very difficult to rescind paternity.[2] If you want to rescind paternity, you will either need to fill out a form or petition the court, depending on your state and the point in time in which you are attempting to rescind paternity. California’s form, a Declaration of Paternity Rescission, looks like . You have 60 days from signing the Declaration of Paternity to file this form. Texas’s form, Rescission of Acknowledgement of Paternity, is . Texas residents must file the form with 60 days after filing an Acknowledgment of Paternity and before a court case about the child is started.[3]

Part 2
Attesting to Paternity through a Paternity Statement

Attesting to Paternity through a Paternity Statement on How to Establish Paternity

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If the mother and father do not place the father’s name on the child’s birth certificate, then they should prepare a “paternity statement.” Most states have official forms that can be filled out.[4] To find the form, type “paternity statement” or “paternity acknowledgment” and your state into a web browser. Alternately, you should contact your state’s Department of Health to request a form. A typical form is like one, from Arizona. There may be a time limit for filing a paternity statement.[5] You should do it as soon as possible.

Attesting to Paternity through a Paternity Statement on How to Establish Paternity

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If your state does not have a form, then you can prepare in informal document establishing paternity. It should contain the names of the parents, the place and date of birth, as well as the child’s name. Sign the document and have it notarized.[6] Only create an informal document if your state does not provide for a formal process.

Attesting to Paternity through a Paternity Statement on How to Establish Paternity

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You probably need to sign the form in front of a notary or other witnesses. After signing the form, copies should be made for both mother and father. Check with your state’s Department of Health for where to file the form. Notaries may be found at many banks, as well as courthouses. You will need to show identification (such as a valid passport or driver’s license) that establishes your identity. In many states, the father’s signature acts as a substitute for a court order, officially establishing his paternal relationship with the child.[7]

Part 3
Using a DNA Test to Establish Paternity

Using a DNA Test to Establish Paternity on How to Establish Paternity

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There are two different kinds of DNA tests: a “buccal swab” and a blood test. Both tests are extremely accurate. With a “buccal swab” test, a cotton swab is rubbed on the inside cheeks of the mouth in order to collect DNA material.[8] With a blood test, blood is drawn from the man and then tested. Buccal swab tests, which are the most common, yield results in 5-10 days.[9]

Using a DNA Test to Establish Paternity on How to Establish Paternity

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Currently, there is no mandatory federal oversight of DNA testing facilities. You will need to choose a facility based upon its voluntary accreditation as well as its promised service. Find out if the lab is accredited. Instead of relying on the lab’s statement that it is accredited, contact the accrediting agencies themselves. For example, go to the American Association of Blood Banks (AABB) [www.aabb.org website] and search for accredited labs. They have a list of accredited blood banks . The accuracy of DNA tests increase with the number of genetic sites on the DNA tested. Your lab should guarantee that it will continue testing until it either (1) can exclude you as the father or (2) can guarantee with more than 99.99% accuracy that you are the father.

Using a DNA Test to Establish Paternity on How to Establish Paternity

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The costs can vary, depending on whether the lab is accredited or not. Quoted prices run from $395 for a standard test to over $500.[10] Some state child welfare agencies make DNA tests available and may even pay for some of the testing fees. You should contact your state welfare agency and ask if this is an option.

Part 4
Obtaining a Court Determination of Paternity

Obtaining a Court Determination of Paternity on How to Establish Paternity

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If the father will not take a DNA test voluntarily, then you can obtain a court order compelling him to take the test. You will have to file a complaint in the appropriate court, which is the court in the county where the child lives.[11] If you have questions about where exactly to file, then contact a family law attorney or the family law facilitator at the courthouse in the county where you reside. In California, you can have your local child support agency initiate a paternity suit.[12] All you need to do is contact your county’s agency, which can be found by using this interactive .

Obtaining a Court Determination of Paternity on How to Establish Paternity

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Many states have pre-printed “fill in the blank” forms for you to fill out. You will need to fill out any form and get a summons from the court clerk. The forms go by different names in different states. Ask the court clerk for the appropriate forms. In California, the forms are called “Petition to Establish Parental Relationship,” and “Summons,” . In Texas, you will have to fill out a “Petition to Adjudicate Parentage” and a “Motion for Genetic Testing and Notice of Hearing.” You also will need to fill out a “Declaration under the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act,” .

Obtaining a Court Determination of Paternity on How to Establish Paternity

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Once you have completed your forms, you must make copies. Make at least 1 copy for the father and 2 copies for your records. Take the original and copies to the court clerk. File the original with the clerk and have your copies stamped as well.[13] You may also have to send blank forms (such as a Response form) for the father to fill out. Ask the clerk what forms you may have to send.[14] Typically, you can have papers served on the father using the sheriff. The court clerk will schedule, and you will be charged a small fee unless you fill out a fee waiver form.[15] Many states also allow you to use a professional process server who can make personal service on the father. Some states also allow service by mail. Since this is less reliable than personal service, states often discourage it.[16]

Obtaining a Court Determination of Paternity on How to Establish Paternity

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Once the sheriff or the process server makes service, he or she will fill out a “Proof of Service” form indicating that service was made. You must then make a copy and file this proof with the court.[17]

Obtaining a Court Determination of Paternity on How to Establish Paternity

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The father will respond and deny parentage, accept parentage, or not respond at all. If he denies parentage, then the court will review the evidence to see if a DNA test is warranted.[18] If the father does not respond, then you can get a default judgment. You will have to fill out certain forms and file them.[19] Ask the court clerk for the appropriate forms. Once you receive a default judgment, the father will have to come into court if he wants to contest parentage.