When a child is born to a couple that is married, it is legally presumed that the husband is the biological father of the child. However, if the child’s parents are not married, the mother retains sole physical and legal custody of the child until paternity is established. This means that the child does not automatically have a legal relationship with the father. The mother has absolute discretion to make important decisions on behalf of the child, including giving the child’s father visitation rights if she wishes.
If the child’s father wants to have a relationship with the child and have a voice in his upbringing, it is crucial that he establishes paternity. There are several ways to determine paternity:
- Conducting blood and DNA testing to establish the likelihood of the man being the child’s father.
- Both parents sign a declaration of paternity in a state-approved form in which both parents agree to the identity of the child’s father and sign their names before witnesses.
- If a man “holds the child out,” meaning that he cares for the child and financially provides for the child for a given period.
- Both parents agree to put the father’s name on the child’s birth certificate.
After establishing paternity, the father has responsibility and rights equal to the mother. A man may want to establish paternity so that he can have an ongoing relationship with his child. He might also want to establish paternity to rule himself out as the father of the child. The child’s mother may wish to establish paternity to get child support from the father.
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