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Establishing Paternity in Massachusetts

When a child is born to two married parents, the husband is the legal father and his name is put on the child’s birth certificate. However, in the diverse society in which we live, children are born into families of many different dynamics. When parents are unmarried, paternity must be legally established in order for the father to appear on the child’s birth certificate and have legal rights to the child. This is an important step since it also involves future rights of the child.

So, how is paternity established in Massachusetts?

Voluntary Vs. Involuntary
Paternity can be established voluntarily or involuntarily. When both parents agree on who the biological father is, they both sign a “Voluntary Acknowledgement of Parentage” in front of a notary pubic, establishing paternity voluntarily. This acknowledgement is then filed with the Registry of Vital Records, officially establishing paternity.

Establishing paternity involuntarily is a longer process, involving a court order of paternity. The person seeking to establish paternity (the petitioner) can be the child, mother, alleged father, a guardian of the child or sometimes a person representing the Massachusetts’ Public Assistance Program. The process begins with the petitioner filing a “Complaint to Establish Paternity” in family court. A judge may order the alleged father to undergo DNA testing to prove paternity. Once it is established, the judge will issue an official order of paternity and the father’s name will be added to the child’s birth certificate.

Why Establishing Paternity is Important?
Establishing paternity is about more than just a name on a birth certificate. It involves the rights of all involved. Once paternity is established, the father has the right to request custody and/or visitation. He will also be financially responsible for the child. Additionally, the child and the father will have inheritance rights should one pass away before the other. The child will also be able to benefit from the father’s health insurance, and social security and veteran’s benefits.

Establishing involuntary paternity can turn into a long process, especially if parents do not agree on support and custody rights. Individuals facing this situation should seek the help of a family law attorney, ready to advocate in the best interests of the child.

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