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Legal Definition of 'Father' by State

While there isn't a uniform legal definition of "father" in state statutes across the country, many states have definitions for different categories of fathers, including "putative father" and "presumed father." Depending on what category you fall into, you may have different rights and responsibilities regarding the child and may need to follow certain procedures to establish paternity.

"Putative" Father

"Putative father," in general, means a man who hasn't legally established a relationship to a child but who is alleged to be or claims to be the biological father of a child who was born to a woman to whom he wasn't married at the time of the child's birth. In general, a man may be presumed to be the father of a child if one of the following is true:

  • He and the child's mother are or were married to each other, and the child is born during the marriage or within 300 days after the marriage has ended.
  • Before the birth of the child, he and the child's mother attempted to marry, and the marriage is or could be declared invalid, and the child is born during the marriage or within 300 days after the marriage is terminated.
  • He's listed, with his consent, as the father on the child's birth certificate.
  • He's acknowledged his paternity in writing.
  • He's obligated to support the child, either by voluntary agreement or court order.
  • While the child is a minor, he's resided with the child and openly claimed the child as his biological child.

Establishing Paternity

Many states provide for a father to voluntarily acknowledge paternity or the possibility of paternity of a child born out of wedlock and to record the acknowledgment in a putative father registry. Registration with a putative father registry or acknowledgment of paternity may grant a father certain rights, including the right to receive notices of adoption and actions to terminate parental rights. A father who's acknowledged paternity may also seek visitation with the child and may be required to provide support to the child.

Often a father may claim paternity of a child by filing a paternity affidavit with a court. Paternity of a child born out of wedlock can be established by court order. Additionally, many state courts may establish paternity when genetic testing determines that a man is the biological father of a child. A man who's legally established to be a child's father is held responsible for his share of support. If the father doesn't volunteer support, he may be compelled to do so through a paternity suit. In addition, a father who's asserted paternity may refuse his consent to adoption.

State Definitions of "Father"

Below, summaries are provided of state laws that legally define "father."

Alabama

An acknowledged father is a man who has established a father-child relationship. An alleged or putative father is a man who alleges himself to be the father of a child but whose paternity hasn't been determined. A man is presumed to be the natural father of a child under certain circumstances, including:

  • He and the child's mother are married to each other, and the child is born during the marriage;
  • He and the child's mother are or have been married to each other, and the child is born during the marriage or within 300 days after the marriage is terminated;
  • While the child is a minor, he receives the child into his home or otherwise openly holds out the child as his natural child or otherwise provides emotional and financial support for the child;
  • He acknowledges his paternity of the child in a writing filed in accordance with provisions of the legitimate statute.
Alaska Presumed father under Alaska court practice: If a child is born while the mother is married, the husband is automatically considered to be the legal father.
Arizona

A man is presumed to be the father of a child if:

  • He and the mother of the child were married at any time in the 10 months preceding the birth or the child is born within 10 months after the marriage is ended;
  • Genetic testing confirms 95 percent or greater probability of paternity;
  • A birth certificate is signed by the mother and father of a child born out of wedlock;
  • A notarized or witnessed statement is signed by both parents acknowledging paternity.
Arkansas Father means the biological male parent of a child. Putative father means any man not legally presumed or adjudicated to be the biological father of a child but who claims or is alleged to be the father of the child.
California "Natural parent" means a nonadoptive parent, whether biologically related to the child or not. "Parent and child relationship" means the legal relationship existing between a child and the child's parents incident to which the law confers or imposes rights, privileges, duties, and obligations. This section doesn't preclude a finding that a child has more than two parents. A person is presumed to be the natural parent of a child under certain conditions, including the presumed parent and the child's natural mother are or have been married to each other and the child is born during the marriage, or within 300 days after the marriage is terminated.
Colorado

A man is presumed to be the natural father under certain circumstances, including when:

  • He and the child's natural mother are or have been married to each other and the child is born during the marriage or within 300 days after the marriage is terminated;
  • While the child is under the age of majority, he receives the child into his home and openly holds out the child as his natural child;
  • He acknowledges his paternity of the child in a writing filed with the court or Registrar of Vital Statistics.
Connecticut "Father" means a man who is a father under the law of this State, including a man who, in accordance with Sec. 46b-172, executes a binding acknowledgment of paternity and a man determined to be a father under chapter 815y.
Delaware An acknowledged father is a man who has established a father-child relationship under subchapter III of this chapter. An adjudicated father is a man who has been adjudicated by a court of competent jurisdiction to be the father of a child. An alleged father is a man who alleges himself to be, or is alleged to be, the genetic father or a possible genetic father of a child, but whose paternity has not been determined. A presumed father is a man who, by operation of law under Sec. 8-204 of this title, is recognized as the father of a child until that status is rebutted or confirmed in a judicial proceeding.
Florida

The term "parent" means a woman who gives birth to a child and a man whose consent to the adoption of the child is required under Sec. 63.062(1). Written consent must be executed by the father of the minor, if:

  • The minor was conceived or born while the father was married to the mother. The minor is his child by adoption.
  • The minor has been established by court proceeding to be his child.
  • He has filed an affidavit of paternity, or he is listed on the child's birth certificate before the date a petition for termination of parental rights is filed.

In the case of an unmarried biological father, he has acknowledged in writing, signed in the presence of a competent witness, that he is the father of the minor, has filed such acknowledgment with the Office of Vital Statistics of the Department of Health within the required timeframes, and has complied with all requirements. The term "putative" father means an individual who is or may be the biological father of a child whose paternity has not been established and whose mother was unmarried when the child was conceived and born.

Georgia

The biological father is the male who impregnated the biological mother resulting in the birth of the child. The legal father is a male who:

  • Has legally adopted a child;
  • Was married to the biological mother of the child at the time the child was conceived or was born unless such paternity was disproved by a final order pursuant to Article 3 of Chapter 7 of this title;
  • Married the legal mother of the child after the child was born and recognized the child as his own, unless such paternity has been disproved;
  • Has been determined to be the father by a final paternity order;
  • Has legitimated the child by a final order pursuant to Sec. 19-7-22 and who has not surrendered or had his rights to the child terminated.
Hawaii

A man is presumed to be the natural father of a child in certain circumstances, including:

  • When he and the child's natural mother are or have been married to each other and the child is born during the marriage or within 300 days after the marriage is terminated;
  • While the child is under the age of majority, he receives the child into his home and openly holds out the child as his natural child;
  • A voluntary, written acknowledgment of paternity of the child signed by him under oath is filed with the Department of Health.
Idaho

The term "parent" means: The birth mother or the adoptive mother; the adoptive father; the biological father of child conceived or born during the father's marriage to the birth mother; the unmarried biological father whose consent to an adoption of the child is required pursuant to Sec. 16-1504. A "presumptive father" is a man who is or was married to the birth mother and the child is born during the marriage or within 300 days after the marriage is terminated. An "unmarried biological father" means the biological father of a child who was not married to the child's mother at the time the child was conceived or born.

Illinois

A man is presumed to be the natural father of a child if:

  • He and the child's mother are or have been married to each other, even though the marriage is or could be declared invalid, and the child is born or conceived during such marriage;
  • After the child's birth, he and the child's mother have married each other, even though the marriage is or could be declared invalid, and he is named, with his written consent, as the child's father on the child's birth certificate;
  • He and the child's mother have signed an acknowledgment of paternity;
  • He and the child's mother have signed an acknowledgment of parentage or, if the natural father is someone other than one presumed to be the father, an acknowledgment of parentage and denial of paternity in accordance with chapter 410, Sec. 535/12.
Indiana An "alleged father" is any man claiming to be or charged with being a child's biological father. A "parent" is a biological or an adoptive parent. Unless otherwise specified, the term includes both parents, regardless of their marital status. For the purposes of various chapters the term "parent" includes an alleged father. A "putative father" is a male of any age who is alleged to be or claims that he may be a child's father but who: Is not presumed to be the child's father; Has not established paternity of the child before the filing of an adoption petition either in a court proceeding or by executing a paternity affidavit.
Iowa A "father" means the male, biological parent of a child. A "putative father" is a man who is alleged to be or who claims to be the biological father of a child born to a woman to whom the man is not married at the time of the birth of the child.
Kansas

A man is presumed to be the father of a child under certain circumstances, including:

  • The man and the child's mother are, or have been, married to each other, and the child is born during the marriage or within 300 days after the marriage is terminated;
  • The man notoriously or in writing recognizes the paternity of the child, including, but not limited to, a voluntary acknowledgment;
  • Genetic test results indicate a probability of 97 percent or greater that the man is the father of the child;
  • The man has a duty to support the child under an order of support regardless of whether the man has ever been married to the child's mother.
Kentucky A "parent" is a biological or adoptive mother, a father of a child born in wedlock, or a father of a child born out of wedlock if paternity has been established in a judicial proceeding or in any manner consistent with the laws of this or any other State.
Louisiana A "parent" means any living person who is presumed to be a parent under the Civil Code or a biological or adoptive mother or father of a child.
Maine "Parent" means the legal parent or the legal guardian when no legal parent exists. "Putative father" means a man who is the alleged biological father of a child but whose paternity has not been legally established. "Alleged father" means: A man who is alleged to have engaged in sexual intercourse with a child's mother during a possible time of conception of the child; A man who is presumed to be a child's father under the Maine Rule of Evidence, Rule 302.
Maryland

A child born to parents who have not participated in a marriage ceremony with each other shall be considered to be the child of his or her mother. A child born to parents who have not participated in a marriage ceremony with each other shall be considered to be the child of his or her father only if the father:

  • Has been judicially determined to be the father in an action brought under the statutes relating to paternity proceedings;
  • Has acknowledged himself, in writing, to be the father;
  • Has openly and notoriously recognized the child to be his child;
  • Has subsequently married the mother and has acknowledged himself, orally or in writing, to be the father.
Massachusetts

A man is presumed to be the father of a child in certain circumstances, including:

  • He is or has been married to the mother and the child was born during the marriage, or within 300 days after the marriage was terminated by death, annulment, or divorce;
  • While the child is under the age of majority, he, jointly with the mother, received the child into their home and openly held out the child as their child;
  • He has acknowledged paternity in a parental responsibility claim, and the mother, having received actual notice thereof, has failed within a reasonable time to object thereto;
  • With respect to a child born before April 13, 1994, with his consent and the consent of the child's mother, he is named as the child's father on the birth certificate as provided in chapter 46.
Michigan A "father" is the man who signs an acknowledgment of parentage of a child. If a child is born of wedlock, a man is considered to be the natural father of that child if the man joins with the mother of the child and acknowledges that child as his child by completing a form that is an acknowledgment of parentage.
Minnesota

A man is presumed to be the biological father under certain circumstances, including:

  • He and the child's biological mother are or have been married to each other and the child is born during the marriage or within 280 days after the marriage is terminated;
  • While the child is under the age of majority, he receives the child into his home and openly holds out the child as his biological child;
  • He and the child's mother acknowledge his paternity of the child in a writing that is signed by both of them and filed with the State Registrar of Vital Statistics.
Mississippi A "parent" is the father or mother to whom the child has been born, or the father or mother by whom the child has been legally adopted.
Missouri A man is presumed to be the natural father of a child in certain circumstances, including: He and the child's natural mother are or have been married to each other and the child is born during the marriage or within 300 days after the marriage is terminated;
Montana

The term "birth parent" means the woman who gave birth to the child or the father of genetic origin of the child. The term "parent" means the birth or adoptive mother or the birth, adoptive, or legal father whose parental rights have not been terminated. The term "putative father" means an individual who may be a child's birth father but who:

  • Was not married to the child's mother on or before the date that the child is born;
  • Has not established paternity of the child prior to the filing of a petition for termination of parental rights to the child for purposes of adoption.

The term "putative father" includes an individual who:

  • Is younger than 18;
  • Is not married to the child's mother even though the individual is a presumed father within the meaning of Sec. 40-6-105.
Nebraska No legal definition of father provided.
Nevada

The term "putative father" means a person who is or is alleged or reputed to be the father of an illegitimate child. A man is presumed to be the natural father of a child under certain circumstances, including if:

  • He and the child's mother are or have been married to each other and the child is born during the marriage, or within 285 days after the marriage is terminated;
  • While the child is a minor, he receives the child into his home and openly holds out the child as his natural child.

A conclusive presumption that a man is the natural father of a child is established if tests for the typing of blood or tests for genetic identification show a probability of 99 percent or more that he is the father. That presumption may be rebutted if he establishes that he has an identical sibling who may be the father.

New Hampshire

The term "birth father" means a person or persons other than a legal father who has been named, pursuant to Sec. 170-B:6, as the father of the child, or who is the subject of a pending paternity action, or who has filed an unrevoked notice of intent to claim paternity of the child pursuant to Sec. 170-B:6. The term "legal father" means:

  • The person designated as the father pursuant to Sec. 5-C:24 on that child's birth certificate;
  • The person designated as the father pursuant to a court order resulting from a paternity action;
  • The person designated as the father upon legitimation pursuant to Sec. 457:42;
  • The person who was determined by the court to be married to the birth mother at the time of conception, birth, or any time between conception and birth.
New Jersey

The term "parent" means a birth parent or parents, including the birth father of a child born out of wedlock who has acknowledged the child or to whom the court has ordered notice to be given. A man is presumed to be the biological father of a child in certain circumstances, including if:

  • He and the child's mother are or have been married to each other and the child is born during the marriage or within 300 days after the marriage is terminated;
  • While the child is a minor, he receives the child into his home and openly holds out the child as his natural child;
  • While the child is a minor, he provides support for the child and openly holds out the child as his natural child.
New Mexico

The term "acknowledged father" means a father who:

  • Acknowledges paternity of the child pursuant to the putative father registry;
  • Is named, with his consent, as the child's father on the child's birth certificate;
  • Is obligated to support the child under a written voluntary promise or pursuant to a court order;
  • Has openly held out the child as his own child by establishing a custodial, personal, or financial relationship with the child.

The term "alleged father" means an individual whom the birth mother has identified as the biological father, but the individual has not acknowledged paternity or registered with the putative father registry. The term "presumed father" means:

  • The husband of the biological mother at the time the child was born;
  • An individual who was married to the mother and either the child was born during the term of the marriage or 300 days after the marriage was terminated;
  • Before the child's birth, an individual who attempted to marry the child's mother, although the attempted marriage is or could be declared invalid and if the attempted marriage: could be declared invalid only by a court, the child was born during the attempted marriage or within 300 days after its termination; is invalid without a court order, the child was born within 300 days after the termination of cohabitation.
New York No legal definition of father provided.
North Carolina No legal definition of father provided.
North Dakota

An "acknowledged father" is a man who has established a father-child relationship under Sec. 14-20-11 through 14-20-24. An "adjudicated father" is a man who has been adjudicated by a court of competent jurisdiction to be the father of a child. An "alleged father" is a man who alleged himself to be, or is alleged to be, the genetic father or a possible genetic father of a child, but whose paternity has not been determined. The term does not include: A presumed father; A man whose parental rights have been terminated or declared not to exist; A male donor.

A "presumed father" is a man who, by operation of law under Sec. 14-20-10, is recognized as the father of a child until that status is rebutted or confirmed in a judicial proceeding. A man is presumed to be the father of a child in certain circumstances, including if:

  • He and the mother of the child are married to each other and the child is born during the marriage;
  • He and the mother of the child were married to each other and the child is born within 300 days after the marriage is terminated;
  • For the first 2 years of the child's life, he resided in the same household with the child and openly held out the child as his own.
Ohio

A man is presumed to be the natural father of a child in certain circumstances, including:

  • The man and the child's mother are or have been married to each other, and the child is born during the marriage or is born within 300 days after the marriage is terminated;
  • An acknowledgment of paternity has been filed pursuant to Sec. 3111.23.

The term "putative father" means a man, including one under age 18, who may be a child's father and to whom all of the following apply:

  • He is not married to the child's mother at the time of the child's conception or birth;
  • He has not adopted the child;
  • He has not been determined, prior to the date a petition to adopt the child is filed, to have a parent and child relationship with the child by a court proceeding or an administrative agency proceeding;
  • He has not acknowledged paternity of the child pursuant to Sec. 3111.21 to 3111.35.
Oklahoma The term "putative father" means an alleged father. For purposes of the Uniform Parentage Act: An "acknowledged father" is a man who has established a father-child relationship by signing an acknowledgment of paternity under Article 3 of the Uniform Parentage Act; An "adjudicated father" is a man who has been adjudicated by a court of competent jurisdiction to be the father of a child; An "alleged father" is a man who alleges himself to be, or is alleged to be, the genetic father or a possible genetic father of a child, but whose paternity has not been determined; A "presumed father" is a man who is recognized as the father of a child until that status is rebutted or confirmed in a judicial proceeding.
Oregon A man is rebuttably presumed to be the father of a child if: He and the woman were married to each other at the time of the child's birth, without a judgment of separation, regardless of whether the marriage is void; He and the woman were married to each other, and the child is born within 300 days after the marriage is terminated.
Pennsylvania

For purposes of prescribing benefits to children born out of wedlock by, from, and through the father, paternity shall be determined by any one of the following ways:

  • If the parents of a child born out of wedlock have married each other;
  • If, during the lifetime of the child, it is determined by clear and convincing evidence that the father openly holds out the child to be his and either receives the child into his home or provides support to the child;
  • If there is clear and convincing evidence that the man was the father of the child, including a prior court determination of paternity.
Rhode Island

A man is presumed to be the natural father of a child in certain circumstance, including if:

  • He and the child's mother are or have been married to each other, and the child is born during the marriage or within 300 days after the marriage is terminated;
  • He acknowledges his paternity of the child in a writing filed with the clerk of the family court;
  • He has submitted to blood testing, and the results establish a conclusive presumption;
  • A sworn acknowledgment of paternity of a child born out of wedlock is signed by both parents.
South Carolina

The father of a child born when the father was not married to the child's mother may establish the right to receive notice of an adoption proceeding in certain circumstances, including:

  • If the child was placed with the prospective adoptive parents more than 6 months after the child's birth, and the father has maintained substantial and continuous or repeated contact with the child as demonstrated by: Payment by the father toward the support of the child of a fair and reasonable sum, based on the father's financial ability;
  • Visits by the father to the child at least monthly when the father is physically and financially able to do so;
  • Regular communication by the father with the child or with the person or agency having lawful custody of the child.
South Dakota The term "parents" means the mother and father, if living, of a child. The term "putative father" means any person who claims to be, or is named as, the biological father or a possible biological father of a child and whose paternity of the child has not been judicially determined.
Tennessee

"Father" means the biological father of a child born out of wedlock. "Parent" means the biological mother or biological father of a child, regardless of the marital status of the mother and father. A man is rebuttably presumed to be the father of a child in certain circumstances, including if:

  • The man and the child's mother are married or have been married to each other, and the child is born during the marriage or within 300 days after the marriage is terminated;
  • While the child is a minor, the man receives the child into his home and openly holds the child out as his natural child;
  • Genetic tests have been administered, an exclusion has not occurred, and the test results show a statistical probability of parentage of 95 percent or greater.
Texas

An "adjudicated father" is a man who has been adjudicated by a court to be the father of a child. A "presumed father" is a man who, by operation of law under Sec. 160.204, is recognized as the father of a child until that status is rebutted or confirmed in a judicial proceeding. A man is presumed to be the father of a child in certain circumstances, including if:

  • He is married to the mother of the child, and the child is born during the marriage;
  • He was married to the child's mother, and the child is born before the 301st day after the date the marriage is terminated;
  • During the first 2 years of the child's life, he continuously resided in the household in which the child resided, and he represented to others that the child was his own.
Utah "Adjudicated father" means a man who has been adjudicated by a tribunal to be the father of a child. "Alleged father" means a man who alleges himself to be, or is alleged to be, the genetic father or a possible genetic father of a child, but whose paternity has not been determined. "Declarant father" means a male who, along with the biological mother, claims to be the genetic father of a child, and signs a voluntary declaration of paternity to establish the man's paternity. "Determination of parentage" means the establishment of the parent-child relationship by the signing of a valid Voluntary Declaration of Paternity or adjudication by a tribunal.
Vermont A "parent" is a person who is legally recognized as a mother or father or whose consent to the adoption of a minor is required under Sec. 2-401(a)(1)-(4) or (6) of this title. The term does not include a person whose parental relationship to a child has been terminated judicially or by operation law.
Virginia

A man shall be presumed to be the father of a child in certain circumstances, including if:

  • He and the mother of the child are married to each other and the child is born during the marriage;
  • He and the mother of the child were married to each other and the child is born within 300 days of their date of separation, as evidenced by a written agreement or decree of separation, or within 300 days after the marriage is terminated by death, annulment, declaration of invalidity, or divorce.
Washington

"Acknowledged father" means a man who has established a father-child relationship. An "adjudicated parent" means a person who has been adjudicated by a court to be the parent of a child. An "alleged parent" means a person who is alleged to be the genetic parent but whose parentage has not been determined. "Presumed parent" means a person who is recognized as the parent of a child until that status is rebutted or confirmed in a judicial proceeding.

A person is presumed to be the parent of a child in certain circumstances, including if:

  • The person and the mother or father of the child are married or in a domestic partnership and the child is born during the marriage or partnership;
  • The person and the mother or father of the child were married in a domestic partnership and the child is born within 300 days after the marriage or partnership is terminated.

A person is presumed to be the parent of a child if, for the first 2 years of the child's life, the person resided in the same household with the child and openly held out the child as his or her own.

West Virginia

The term "birth father" means the biological father of a child. The term "determined father" means, before adoption, a person:

  • In whom paternity has been established pursuant to the provisions of article 24-101 et seq., whether by adjudication or acknowledgment;
  • Who has been otherwise judicially determined to be the biological father of the child entitled to parental rights;
  • Who has asserted his paternity of the child in an action commenced pursuant to the provisions of article 24-101 et seq., that is pending at the time of the filing of the adoption petition.

The term "legal father" means, before adoption, the male person having the legal relationship of parent to a child:

  • Who is married to the child's mother at the time of conception;
  • Who is married to the child's mother at the time of the birth of the child;
  • Who is the biological father of the child and who marries the mother before an adoption of the child.

The term "outside father" means the biological father of a child born to or conceived by the mother while she is married to another man who is not the biological father of the child.

Wisconsin The term "parent" means either a biological parent, a husband who has consented to the artificial insemination of his wife, or a parent by adoption. If the child is a nonmarital child who is not adopted or whose parents do not subsequently intermarry, "parent" includes a person acknowledged under Sec. 767.805 or a substantially similar law of another State or adjudicated to be the biological father. The term "parent" does not include any person whose parental rights have been terminated. A man is presumed to be the natural father of a child if he and the mother have acknowledged paternity under Sec. 69.15(3)(b) and no other man is presumed to be the father under Sec. 891.41(1).
Wyoming A "parent" is the child's father or mother whose parental rights have not been judicially terminated. A "putative father" is the alleged or reputed father of a child born out of wedlock, whether or not the paternity rights and obligations of the father have been judicially determined.

Get a Free Legal Review of Your Paternity Case Today

As discussed above, states differ in defining "father" and in how paternity is established. In order to protect your rights and better understand your responsibilities, you may need additional legal help. Have a family law attorney review the details of your paternity case today, at no cost to you.

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