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Paternity is the legal term for fatherhood. When unwed couples have a child together and then separate, paternity must be established before the court can order the father to pay child support. Establishing paternity also entitles the child to certain life-long rights.

Establishing paternity
There are several ways to establish paternity.

Many fathers claim their children in writing when they are born and are included on the birth certificate. Men typically have 60 days to deny paternity after signing such a document.

DNA testing is a common method of determining paternity. This testing requires the participation of the mother, child, and all potential fathers. If there is reasonable evidence that a man may be the father the court can compel him to submit to testing. Genetic testing is not 100% proof of paternity. It proves a probability of paternity with 90%-99% accuracy, and can rule out a man who could not possibly be the father. It is considered to be legally binding proof of paternity. A review of DNA testing data has shown that about 98% of men who believe they are the father, and about 60% of men who doubt being the father, really are.

Letters, gifts, photographs and testimony from friends and relatives can also be used to help establish paternity.

Legal paternity is established by default if the potential father does not appear for court proceedings or fails to respond when properly served.

Rights and benefits of children
Children benefit psychologically and emotionally from knowing who both of their parents are. Medically this information can save lives if a transplant is needed or if the father has a medical condition which could be passed down to the child.

A child has certain legal rights and privileges, beyond child support, which can include:

  • Inheritance
  • Life insurance benefits
  • Medical insurance benefits
  • Veteran’s benefits
  • Social Security

Custody and visitation
Establishing paternity does not automatically give a father custody or visitation rights, but can be used to his benefit in court should he seek such rights.

Repaying the state
When a mother seeks financial aid from the government to care for her child, including Medicaid, she automatically obligates the father to repay the government for this support. Mothers who receive financial assistance from the government are required by law to help child support enforcement officials find a child’s father in order to force him to repay the state. In some cases the father will be offered the option to voluntarily terminate parental rights (TPR) in order to avoid child support. TPR is a very serious decision which means that the parent will never be allowed to see the child, have any contact or be informed of the child’s whereabouts, health, welfare, or even have a right to know if the child is still alive.

If you are facing paternity issues, contact an experienced paternity lawyer today.

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