Paternity means having a legally recognized father. Establishing paternity is very important in family law cases and can be a huge benefit to both the father and the child. For example, establishing paternity can prevent the mother from giving the child up for adoption without the father’s consent, it can help secure financial support for the child in the form of child support, and it can help a father get custody or visitation with his child. Establishing paternity can also ensure that the child receives inheritance or social security benefits from their father. There are several ways to establish paternity, and they are all discussed below. But first, we need to talk about the different types of fathers.
What Makes a Father?
There are different types of fathers under the law. If a child is born to a married couple, the husband at the time of the child’s birth is called the “legal father.” This means that the child is legally recognized as the child of that man in the eyes of the law. This has nothing to do with whether that man is actually the biological father of the child, it only matters that the man was married to the mother of the child at the time of the child’s birth. For example, if a married woman gets pregnant as a result of an affair, her husband is recognized as the father of that child under the law until proven otherwise.
A “putative father” is a man who is assumed to be or claims to be the biological father of the child, but he is not married to the mother, and his legal relationship with his child has not been established.
How Do I Establish Paternity?
There are several ways to establish paternity. The first way is probably the easiest: be legally married to the child’s mother when the child is born. If a child is born during a marriage or within a certain timeframe before the marriage, the law presumes that the husband is the father of that baby. The husband automatically becomes the child’s “legal father,” and paternity is established. If a child is born to parents who are not married, the father will have to establish paternity another way.
Second, a father can sign an acknowledgement that he is the father. Unmarried fathers often sign this at the hospital so that their name can be added on the birth certificate. Unmarried fathers can also acknowledge paternity by registering with a Putative Father Registry. Not all states have these registries, but Mississippi is one of the states that does. This means that a father who is not married to the mother of his child can add himself to the registry, declaring that he is the father of the child, and the law will recognize him as the father. But this can be a double-edged sword. If a father acknowledges his paternity by registration, it will allow him to request visitation rights, but he will also probably be required to pay child support.
The third way to establish paternity is by filing a paternity action. This can be filed by the mother, the potential father, the child, or the Mississippi Department of Human Services. Unless both parents enter an agreed order of paternity or testify under oath that the man fathered the child in question, the court will order genetic testing of the child and the potential father. If the tests show at least a 98% probability that that man is the father of the child, the court will issue an order establishing that man as the father. If the court orders that that man is the father, he is the biological and legal father of that child.
In paternity cases brought by the Mississippi Department of Human Services, if a potential father fails to report for his court dates, the court can enter an order designating that man as the father and requiring him to pay child support in the potential father’s absence.
Finding an Attorney
If you need to establish paternity, want to adopt your stepchild, have received a summons in a child support action, or want to discuss your parental rights, consider speaking with a qualified, experienced family law attorney at Vic Carmody Jr., P.A. Our firm can handle your case with a balance of compassion and confidence to guide you through one of the most difficult times a person can go through. Contact us today for a free consultation to discuss your case and learn about your options.
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