If parents are married when a child is born, there is usually no question about parentage. The law assumes that the husband is the father and the wife is the mother, so paternity is automatically established in most cases.
But for unmarried parents, parentage of their children needs to be established legally.
Note: After January 1, 2005, if parents are registered domestic partners when a child is born, the law assumes that the domestic partners are the child’s parents. However, since this law is relatively new and unsettled, same-sex parents should get legal advice to make sure that the parentage is clear.
Establishing parentage means obtaining a court order or signing an official Declaration of Paternity that says who the legal parents of a child are. For example, 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 parentage is established. So even if a father can prove he is the biological father of a child, if he was never married to the mother, he does not legally have any rights or responsibilities for the child. For that, parentage must be established legally.
Establishing parentage is necessary before custody, visitation, or child support will be ordered by a court. You can ask the judge for child support or custody and visitation orders as part of a case that establishes the child’s parentage.
If a person does not admit that he or she is the parent, the court may order the alleged father, mother, and child to submit to genetic testing.
Once a person is established as the father or mother of a child, he or she will have all the rights and responsibilities of a parent:
- He or she will be able to request custody and visitation orders from the court so that he or she can legally visit with his or her child.
- He or she also will be responsible for paying child support and will have to pay half of the uninsured health-care costs for the children and half of the child-care costs that result from the custodial parent getting or having a job or going to school.
If a person is established as a legal parent of a child, that person is legally obligated to financially support the child. A legal parent also has the right to get custody or visitation rights related to the child.