Paternity = Fatherhood
If you have not married the mother of your child, you will need a Judgment of Paternity to establish your right as a father. A parentage case may be started by the mother, the father, a child’s personal representative or the Department of Child Support Services.
There is one exception to the requirement for a Judgment of Paternity: If you have correctly executed a Declaration of Paternity (CS 909) [usually you are presented with one in the hospital if you were present for the birth]. The Declaration of Paternity must be signed by both parents and can have the same effect as a court order establishing paternity of your child — without anyone having to go to court. When the form is not signed at birth — you and mom must complete the form in front of a notary public and send to the State Department of Social Service.
Should I sign a Declaration of Paternity?
Only sign if you are certain you are the father. Since it can have the same effect of a Judgment, once you have correctly completed the document you can be held responsible for child support unless you (1) file a Rescission Form within 60 days or (2) successfully challenge the DOP within a very limited period of time. The latter option is much more difficult and may require legal assistance.
Can I still establish my Paternity if I do not sign the DOP or if I am not on the Birth Certificate? What about if the Mother refuses to acknowledge my rights to our child?
Absolutely! You will need to file a Petition to Establish a Parental Relationship and bring the case before a Judge. Once paternity has been established, you can seek custody and visitation rights.
What if I am not sure if the child is biologically mine?
You can ask the court to order genetic testing prior to an admission of paternity.
Can I change a previous order of child custody or support?
You can change a prior order by filing a Request for Order with the Court. You must show a change of circumstances. Examples include: (1) change in income; (2) informal or court ordered change of custodial time share; (2) you have completed drug/ alcohol rehabilitation or anger management courses; or (3) the mother is not providing a safe or suitable home environment.
If we come to an agreement, do either of us need to go to court?
No! Assuming you have a complete agreement and you have filed the necessary pleadings, you will not need to go to court.
I did not sign a Declaration of Paternity and/or there is no Judgment of Paternity. Mother and I have an amicable relationship. Do I still need a Judgment of Paternity?
It is still a very good idea to establish Paternity. If you fail to establish paternity, your child may have difficulty inheriting from you or your family members, traveling with you, receiving social security / veteran’s benefits (if available), accessing family medical records, obtaining support from both parents or reaping the emotional benefits of knowing who both parents are. You may also have trouble getting access to your child if the relationship between you and your child’s mother becomes strained.
If you need assistance establishing your parental relationship and/or challenging a paternity judgment, Levine Family Law Group can help. We offer a range of services including: mediation, document preparation, legal coaching, limited scope representation and Full Representation.