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How to legally establish paternity

If unmarried parents separate, it is extremely important from a child custody perspective for the father to establish legal paternity. In order to do this, you usually have to start a court case. The exact procedure varies from state to state, but in an ideal situation, it should be done immediately after the child is born.

This blog will serve as a brief overview on the steps a man should take in establishing the legal paternity of his child, and what challenges can occur.

Legal establishment of paternity

There are two main routes to establishing legal paternity through the state. The first, which is usually the simplest, is when there is a voluntary acknowledgement of parenthood by both of the parents. If this is not possible to do, the second route is through a state-established legal process, which usually involves genetic testing.

Voluntary parental acknowledgement

Birth record agencies and hospitals work together with the state-run paternity establishment program. Through these programs, parents can fill in forms that also inform them of their rights and responsibilities when establishing paternity. Usually voluntary parental establishment is done within days of the child's birth.

Court-based process

If paternity was not established at birth, there are many other options for a father to establish paternity. Usually an attorney is required, and child support staff will collect information about the alleged father and the child. A genetic test will also likely be required. When the trial occurs, the mother of the child may be required to testify.

Source: NCSL, "Establishing paternity," accessed Sep. 07, 2017

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