Reagen Kulseth

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Establishing Paternity

A Birth Certificate Does Not Establish Paternity

Establishing paternity means to be declared the legal and biological father of a child. If the parents of a child were not married when the mother became pregnant or when the child was born, the child does not have a legal father until paternity is established. This is true even if the father's name is on the child's birth certificate.

It is Important to Legally Establish Paternity

Until there is a determination that a biological father is the legal father, the child has no right to receive financial support from the father, to inherit from the father or to obtain insurance, veterans(, Social Security or other benefits through the father. Likewise, until paternity is legally established, the father has no right to custody of or parenting time with the child and no legal right to participate in major decisions about the child, such as medical treatment, education or religious training.

Presumption of Paternity

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

  1. He and the mother of the child were married at any time in the ten months immediately preceding the birth or the child is born within ten months after the marriage is terminated by death, annulment, declaration of invalidity or dissolution of marriage or after the court enters a decree of legal separation.
  2. Genetic testing affirms at least a ninety-five per cent probability of paternity.
  3. A birth certificate is signed by the mother and father of a child born out of wedlock.
  4. A notarized or witnessed statement is signed by both parents acknowledging paternity or separate substantially similar notarized or witnessed statements are signed by both parents acknowledging paternity.

These presumptions do not give a father any legal rights! All they mean is that if any of the above mentioned documents are filed with the Clerk of the Superior Court, (s)he can issue an order that legally establishes paternity. A paternity order signed by a Clerk of the Superior Court is just as effective as an order signed by a Superior Court judge and can be obtained much faster. However, this order does not establish child support payments, parenting time, medical insurance and other benefits for the child.

What if the identity of the father is uncertain?

Sometimes parents do not agree to voluntarily establish paternity. This may be because the identity of the putative father is uncertain or because the putative (alleged) father is not willing to assume the responsibilities of fatherhood. Either parent can request that genetic testing be conducted.

How is paternity legally established?

To establish paternity through the court, one of the parents must file a paternity complaint. This can be done during the mother's pregnancy or any time before the child reaches the age of eighteen. The person who files the petition must have it served on the other party, who then has an opportunity to respond. Unless the parties agree the man is the father, the court will order that genetic testing be done. If the results of the DNA test indicate a likelihood of paternity of 95% or more, the man is declared the father.

Who Can File a Paternity Complaint?

A paternity action can be commenced by either the mother, the father, the child, the state Department of Economic Security (DES), by automatic operation of law through the state Department of Health Services, or by the guardian, conservator or best friend of a child or children born out of wedlock.

If a father relinquishes his parental rights does he still owe child support?

Yes. Until the child is legally adopted by another, the father is still required to pay child support.

Last Updated: 01/23/2015