The phrase “establishment of paternity” is the legal process of determining who a child’s biological father is. Upon determining paternity for a child, the process also generally establishes the rights and responsibilities are for each parent regarding the child. A Petition for Paternity can be initiated by either parent or by the state child support enforcement agency (if one parent is receiving support from the state in the form of cash, food or state medical insurance) in an effort to minimize reliance on state-sponsored aid.

If there is a question whether the named father is, in fact the biological father of the child, any party can request a DNA test to confirm parentage. Paternity is established when both parents agree with the test results (or if they don’t and a judge makes a determination based on the evidence). Following that determination, the court can consider issues such as which parent will have custody and how much time each parent will have with the child based on the child’s best interest. Other issues to be resolved include financial decisions, such as child support, as well as who will pay childcare expenses, health insurance premiums, and extracurricular expenses, and who will claim the child for tax purposes.

A judge may also order other support in the form of a life insurance policy or child support going back a period of months or years since the parents stopped living together. If the parents never cohabited, child support can go back to the date of the child’s birth and the custodial parent may also claim birth expenses. As in divorce proceedings, the court determines the amount of child support based on a child support formula based on each parent’s respective gross income and any contributions to child care costs and the costs of the child’s health care insurance.

Seth Harris, an experienced attorney at the PMK family law division, can guide you through the legal paternity process, from answering questions and filing a petition to providing representation in a paternity hearing, seeking favorable settlement or proceeding to a contested trial.