Establishing Paternity (or Parentage).
When a married woman bears a child, the law presumes her husband to be the father of the child; the law regards the husband as the child’s “presumed father.” As long as his status as the presumed father never is successfully challenged, he is the father of the child for all legal purposes. For example, if the parents divorce, he has the full right to spend time with the child according to the parties’ Parenting Plan and he has the full obligation to support the child pursuant to the parties’ Order of Child Support. Also, inheritance rights as between the child and the presumed father are fully recognized.
However, when an unmarried woman bears a child, the law does not presume anybody to be the father of the child. (That is true regardless of whether the woman is cohabiting with a man at the time of the birth.) It may occur that a man is at the hospital during the birth – and he may have therefore signed an Acknowledgement of Paternity and had his name placed upon the child’s Birth Certificate, identifying himself as the child’s father. In such events, the law regards that man only as the child’s “acknowledged father.” That is a low-level status of fatherhood under the law. Therefore, his right to be regarded as the father of the child for all legal purposes requires that his “paternity” (fatherhood) be judicially established in a paternity case. Sometimes the paternity case is initiated by the State or by the mother against an alleged father because child support is being sought from the alleged father. Sometimes the paternity case is initiated by the alleged father himself because he wants to get a Parenting Plan entered with the court, so he can spend time with his child. No matter who initiates the paternity case, the other party often doesn’t contest the alleged father’s paternity, in which case a court Decree Establishing Paternity is pretty easily obtained. Where the other party does contest the alleged father’s paternity, the court will order a blood test (DNA test), to determine whether the child and the alleged father are a DNA match. If the result is that they are not a DNA match, the paternity action will be dismissed with respect to the alleged father. If they are a DNA match, a court Decree Establishing Paternity will be entered, judicially establishing the alleged father to be the father of the child for all legal purposes. The resulting Parenting Plan and Order of Child Support will be entered as part of the paternity case.