A legal action for paternity is needed when a child is born outside of the marriage. Generally speaking, if the parents of a child were unmarried when the child is born, then the law does not always automatically recognize any legal rights associated with the minor child. There are two ways to establish paternity of a minor child: the submission of a voluntary declaration of parentage or an order by the court establishing the legal parents of the minor child. When a voluntary declaration of paternity or parentage is signed by both parents and submitted to the court, both parties are legally recognized as the parents of the minor child. It is important to remember that the courts will not recognize the signature of a parent forced to sign the form under duress.
A paternity is established in order to legally identify the parents of a minor child for the purpose of establishing child custody, visitation, and support. Once a paternity order is entered by the court, both parties will have all legal rights to the child, and can request custody, visitation, and support orders from the court.
Some of the legal rights and priveledges obtained via a paternity action include:
- Financial responsibility for the care and upkeep of the child
- Access to family medical records and history
- Naming of parent on child’s birth certificate
- Health and life insurance coverage
- Right to inherit
- Right to receive social security and veteran’s benefits
Until paternity is established by the court, orders regarding the above issues cannot be made by the judge. As a result, child support, custody, and visitation can not be legally enforced until a paternity case has been initiated.