When a couple conceives and has a child, without being married at the time of the child’s birth, they may agree to sign and file with the appropriate authorities, an Acknowledgement of Parentage. That document legally declares them the child’s parents. They may work out parenting and support between themselves without further court order.
Paternity can also be established by filing a case with the appropriate Circuit/Family Court. The mother or the father can bring such an action.
If there is a dispute over the child’s parentage, or the payment of support, health insurance, uninsured medical expenses or child care, either the mother or the man who believes he is the father, can file a Paternity case with the appropriate court, to decide. If the man disputes he is the father, typically the court will order DNA testing of the couple, and the child(ren) to decide the issue. At the conclusion of the case, an Order of Paternity (sometimes called an Order of Filiation) is entered.
A child may also be legitimized in an adoption proceeding, where the alleged natural father has either established a custodial relationship with the child, or contributed regular and substantial support to the mother for at least 90 days prior to the notice of a termination hearing being served on him. If the court determines it is in the child’s best interest that the father be awarded custody, the child’s paternity will be established.
Once a child’s paternity has been established, that child is now a legitimate heir to both its mother and father for Estate and Probate purposes. Legitimacy also may be relevant to entitlement to benefits under the Social Security Act and Worker’s Disability Compensation Act. Both mother and father’s rights and responsibilities for and to the child are preserved once paternity is lawfully established.
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