Paternity Law | Family Law | Parental Rights
The laws governing child custody for an out of wedlock couple, paternity case, have significant differences than the laws governing child custody within the context of a marriage and divorce.
With respect to child support and parenting plans, the law is the same in that the Court must follow the child support guidelines and do what is in the best interests of the child. In general, out of wedlock fathers seeking rights to their children need to consult an attorney prior to, or immediately after the birth of their son or daughter.
Out-of-wedlock mothers also need to seek counsel so that they can establish child support orders to ensure they have the financial means to care for the child.
What is paternity?
Paternity means legal fatherhood. If you and your child’s other parent are not married to each other, you can establish paternity by signing a paternity acknowledgment form, or asking a court to establish paternity. Otherwise your child will have no legal father.
Why is it important to establish paternity?
Identity: When parents establish paternity for a child, they both say “Yes, this is my child.” This gives a child a sense of identity and connection with both sides of the family. Knowing both parents can improve a child’s chance of success in life.
Health: More and more, medical research shows how important it is to know about any diseases or physical problems or characteristics that may have been passed down from both sides of someone’s family. Knowledge of both parents’ family medical history will help doctors treat–or even prevent–medical problems that a child might have inherited.
Financial Support: Families with children who are supported by two parents are more likely to have enough money to meet their needs than families supported by only one parent. By establishing paternity, both parents make a commitment to support their child to the best of their abilities.
Benefits: When parents establish paternity, they make their child eligible for coverage under either parent’s health insurance. If anything should happen to the father, the child may also be entitled to receive Social Security, pension, veteran’s and inheritance benefits.
Public Assistance: If a parent receives public assistance, he or she is required to cooperate with the Child Support Enforcement Division to establish paternity and a child support order. If the parent does not cooperate, his or her benefits may be reduced.
How do I establish paternity for my child?
Parents who are not married to each other can establish paternity–legal fatherhood–for their child only if both parents sign a paternity acknowledgment form or if either of them asks a court to establish paternity.
Signing a Paternity Acknowledgment Form
Parents can establish paternity for their child by signing a form called the Voluntary Acknowledgment of Parentage. (This is sometimes called acknowledging paternity.) Once both parents have signed this form and their signatures have been notarized, the man becomes the legal father of the child and his name goes on the child’s birth certificate. No one has to go to court.
Parents can acknowledge paternity this way in three places:
Parents can complete the Voluntary Acknowledgment of Parentage form shortly after the birth of their child, while the mother and child are still in the hospital. The birth registrar at the hospital can help with this. There is no fee when the parents sign the acknowledgment in the hospital.
City or Town Clerk’s Office
If parents do not establish paternity before they leave the hospital, they can still acknowledge paternity for their child by completing a Voluntary Acknowledgment of Parentage form and filing it at the city or town clerk’s office in the community where the child was born. Both parents’ signatures.
Registry of Vital Records and Statistics
If it is not convenient to complete a Voluntary Acknowledgment of Parentage form in the community where the child was born, the parents may complete the form at the Registry of Vital Records and Statistics (RVRS), or mail the form with a check for $25 to RVRS. Parents can acknowledge paternity for their child any time in the child’s life.
Undoing a Paternity Acknowledgment
Legal fatherhood for the child is established as of the date both parents sign the acknowledgment form, if it is properly completed and filed.
However, if within 60 days of the date both parents signed, either parent comes to believe that the man named on the form may not be the father, one of the parents must file a case in Probate and Family Court and ask the court to “rescind” the acknowledgment (that is, have it declared null and void).
If, within 60 days of signing, the parent questioning paternity is a party to a court hearing about the child (for instance, to establish a child support order or a custody and visitation order), the parent must raise the issue of the child’s paternity at the hearing. Before the end of the 60 day period, the parent questioning paternity must file a case in Probate and Family Court asking to rescind the acknowledgment. After 60 days, the acknowledgment is as binding as a court judgment of paternity and has the same legal force and effect. However, parents can challenge the acknowledgment, but only in court, only within one year of the date both parents sign, and only on limited grounds of fraud, duress or material mistake of fact.
The court will generally order the parents and child to undergo paternity tests that determine whether the man is the biological father of the child by comparing certain genetic characteristics that show up in blood or tissue samples from the child and both parents. These samples are obtained either by a simple blood draw or by rubbing a cotton swab on the inside of the cheek.
Questions about who a child’s biological father really is, a parent should ask a judge or the Child Support Enforcement Division of the Massachusetts Department of Revenue for paternity tests before signing an acknowledgment form.
Going To Court To Establish Paternity: A More Complicated Way To Establish Paternity For Your Child
Another way to establish paternity is for either parent, their child, or us – the Child Support Enforcement Division – to start a court action to establish paternity. As part of this court action, the judge may order the mother, the man who may be the father, and the child to have paternity tests. These tests are generally quick and easy. After reviewing the test results and any other relevant information, the judge will decide whether or not the man is the father of the child. If the judge determines that he is the child’s biological father, this will establish paternity for the child and the father’s name will go on the child’s birth certificate.
At any time during the court process, parents can sign a Voluntary Acknowledgment of Parentage form, and there will no longer be a need for a judge to determine paternity.
What are paternity tests?
Paternity tests are used to determine whether a man is the biological father of the child. The tests can be done in two ways: a simple blood draw, or a ‘buccal swab’ test, where a cotton swab is rubbed on the cheeks inside the mouth. The mother, the child and the man who may be the father must all be tested to make this determination. The blood or saliva samples (from the cotton swab) will be compared to see what special characteristics – known as ‘genetic markers’ – the child shares with the mother and the man who may be the father. These tests are extremely accurate in showing whether or not a man is the biological father of a child.
Who pays for the paternity tests?
If the tests show that the man is the child’s biological father, he pays for the tests. If the tests show he is not the father and the Child Support Enforcement Division is providing services to the family, then the state pays the cost.
How does someone get services from the Child Support Enforcement Division (“CSED”)?
The Child Support Enforcement Division of the Massachusetts Department of Revenue can assist parents in establishing paternity and child support orders, collecting child support for the families it serves and asking courts to adjust child support orders when circumstances change. Any parent or guardian of a child under 18 years old can ask for help with a child support order or with establishing paternity. If a parent receives public assistance, he or she can talk to a caseworker at the Department of Transitional Assistance about the services we provide. A parent does not have to be on public assistance for us to help. It does not cost any money to apply for child support services from the CSED. When a parent applies for our services, CSED will try to help that parent establish paternity for their child and get the support to which he or she is entitled. Whether CSED succeeds depends upon how much information the parent gives, how up-to-date and accurate it is, and what financial resources are available to support the child once CSED locates the other parent.
Contact Us For a Confidential Consultation:
Contact the Massachusetts attorneys at Berid & Schutzbank for a confidential consultation about your parental rights or child custody matter.