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Not every family begins in the traditional way, and there are times when we need to figure out who a child’s father is. Paternity is the legal establishment of the identity of a child's father -- often through the use of DNA testing -- which may be a factor in cases involving child support, custody, adoption, and inheritance. Establishing paternity can help a mother enforce child support orders or, in some cases, reunite estranged fathers with their children. The Paternity sub-section of FindLaw's Family Law Center can provide you with the facts and resources regarding how paternity is established and the subsequent legal effects.

This section discusses the legal concept of paternity and explains the various types of legal proceedings relevant to establishing and enforcing paternity. The articles provide state-specific information on paternity laws and procedures. You'll find information on establishing paternity, challenging paternity, types of paternity tests and proceedings, and more.

Paternity, Legally

While a child may have multiple men claiming to be his or her father, or claiming not to be, paternity refers to the legal establishment of the identity of a child's father. Some legal effects of paternity are obvious, like liability for a share of the child support. Other effects are not so apparent, such as the right of a father asserting paternity to refuse consent to an adoption. A father claiming paternity can also gain custody and visitation rights.

Paternity is equally important for the mother, who may be able to secure financial support for the child but at the same time may be required to share custody with the father. For the child, establishing paternity could provide the child with access to worker’s compensation or death benefits, as well as rights to inheritance. And in terms of physical and psychological health, there are benefits to knowing exactly who a child’s father is.

Establishing Paternity

Paternity can be established either voluntarily or involuntarily. A child born to a married couple is presumed to be the child of the husband, but a child born to an unmarried couple could be assumed to be the husband’s if he signs an acknowledgement of paternity, marries or attempts to marry the mother during the pregnancy or soon afterward, or welcomes the child into his home and cultivates a close parent-child relationship.

For men unwilling to admit paternity, it can also be established through a paternity lawsuit filed by the mother or by the state on the mother’s behalf. A paternity suit can require the presumptive father to appear in court and submit to a blood test. The blood will be submitted for DNA testing to determine a match with the child’s. If DNA testing proves the subject of the suit is indeed the child’s father, the court can then enter an order establishing paternity.

Hiring a Family Attorney

Paternity proceedings can be emotionally and legally complex. Whether you’re a mother trying to establish paternity or an alleged father trying to fight it, an experienced family law attorney can help you understand your rights and responsibilities, as well as the legal procedures and ramifications of establishing paternity.