When a child is born to a married couple in Massachusetts, the law presumes the husband to be the child’s father, and that creates legal paternity, although steps can be taken to rebut that assumption and establish paternity elsewhere. When a mother is unmarried, the father of the child must act to establish legal paternity before he acquires parental rights and before he incurs support obligations.
Massachusetts law provides for different ways to establish paternity, some of which may be accomplished easily out of court while others require court involvement.
Voluntary Acknowledgement of Parentage
When an unmarried couple agree about paternity issues, both parents can sign a Voluntary Acknowledgement of Parentage Form. Many hospitals present this form to unmarried parents automatically so that they can enter the names of both parents on the birth certificate, and parents often forget that they’ve signed it. Generally, if the father’s name appears on the child’s birth certificate, it means he has signed this form and it’s on file somewhere.
Signing the paternity form is a significant step. If a parent changes their mind after signing the form, they have 60 days to demand a DNA paternity test—or less if there is a hearing on custody or child support less than 60 days after the form is signed. Once this deadline passes, the only option a parent has to rescind their acknowledgement is to prove that signing was done under duress or as the result of fraud or a material mistake of fact. Then, a year after signing, it becomes impossible to rescind an acknowledgement of parentage, even if another man is proven to be the biological father.
Establishing Paternity through the Court
A mother or a man believing himself to be the father of a child can go to court to file a Complaint to Establish Paternity. In these cases, the court usually orders a DNA test to determine biological parentage. If the results are positive, the judge will issue a court order that formally establishes paternity, and the child’s birth certificate should be changed to include the father’s name. At that time, the court will usually order child support and a custody plan may be established as well.
Why it is Crucial to Establish Legal Paternity
Legal paternity is of vital importance for the father, mother, and most of all, for the child. Establishing paternity provides the child with a sense of identity and can give that child access to financial resources including:
- Insurance through the father’s insurance plan
- Inheritance of property through the father’s family
- The ability to receive Social Security and VA benefits, life insurance proceeds, investment income, and other resources.
The father gains a sense of identity just as the child does, and he gets the ability to seek custody and visitation rights to play an active role in the child’s life.
Get Help Establishing Paternity
If you are a father who wishes to gain parental rights or a mother seeking identity and support for a child, an experienced attorney at Koiles Pratt Family Law Group can help establish legal paternity. We can negotiate or pursue remedies in court to follow the most direct path toward your goals. Contact us today to learn more.