A hundred years ago, when a woman had a child out of wedlock, there wasn't any way for the courts to determine who the father was. They could look at the physical characteristics of the child and take a guess, but beyond hunches and guesswork, there was no way to know for sure. These days, if a child is born to unmarried parents, legal avenues exist through which the mother can establish paternity for the purpose of collecting child support. The biological father can also step forward to establish paternity for the purpose of gaining visitation rights.
Here's what it takes to establish paternity:
If the parents can agree on issues of parentage: When the mother and father both agree on who the dad of the child is, they can sign a voluntary acknowledgment of paternity form and submit it to the court. This form – when both parents sign it – can be completed at any time after the birth of the child. Sometimes, the parents fill out this form at the hospital immediately after the birth of the child. The father's name will then be included on the child's birth certificate.
When no agreement between the parents can be achieved: If the parents stand firm in their disagreement regarding the true father of the child, then the parent who wants to establish paternity may choose to file a paternity lawsuit. The father will usually need to submit to DNA testing because of this lawsuit. Fortunately, modern DNA testing techniques allow a quick result to conclusively prove whether a specific man is or isn't the father of a specific child.
Regardless of your reasons for establishing paternity, if you know your legal rights, you'll have a better chance of success in proving paternity, receiving child visitation rights and/or establishing your right to receive child support payments.