Paternity actions are filed in situations where parties who are parents together, never married, and one of the parents is seeking support, custody, or a determination of parentage. Either party, the mother or the father, may file a Petition to Establish Paternity. As in divorce proceedings in which the parties were married, child support obligations cannot be waived in situations in which the parties were never married. Parents are legally obligated to support their children, regardless of their marital status. Likewise, both parents are entitled to make decisions regarding their child’s welfare, and to share in the custody and raising of their children, once there has been a determination of paternity.

Modernly, paternity can be established with certainty through DNA testing. There are also statutory presumptions of paternity in certain situations. For instance, when a father has taken a child into his home and has held the child out as his own for a certain period of time, there is a presumption that he is the father. A presumption also arises when a father signs a voluntary declaration of paternity.

A voluntary declaration of paternity is a document that a father must sign in order for his name to be placed on the child’s birth certificate.  Thus, if his name is on the birth certificate, there is a good chance he signed this declaration. Said declaration is important because it has the same force and effect as a judgement of paternity.  However, it is far less expensive to obtain this declaration than it is to take a paternity test.

Only the parties, i.e. the mother, the father, or the child, can request the voluntary declaration of paternity.  Their attorneys may not request it on their behalf. There is a form to fill out and send into the Department of Social Services. The form may be found online by googling “pop” or “presumption of paternity.” If you google those words, the website for the Department of social services will come up. When on the site, click on the option which reads “Request a Voluntary Declaration of Paternity.”  Follow the instructions, fill out the form, and send payment into the Department of Social Services. The address will be on the form.

All determinations of paternity must be made before the child is 2 years old.