The process to establish paternity is fairly simple in most cases. Either by agreement or legal assumption, the paternity of a child is often straightforward. In other cases, however, the process is more complicated because either the father denies his paternity or the mother challenges his claim to paternity. This leads to a situation sometimes known as involuntary paternity, which requires a court hearing and possibly genetic testing.

What is the importance of establishing paternity?

Legally establishing paternity has advantages for everyone involved. Emotionally, the children reap the benefits of having a father in their lives, and fathers have the opportunity to develop an ongoing parent-child relationship and may exercise certain custody or visitation rights.

The child also gets other benefits from this process as well, including the opportunity for health and life insurance. The mother, assuming she has primary custody, may receive child support, helping her provide for the child’s basic needs.

When is it necessary to establish paternity?

In both Pennsylvania and New Jersey, courts automatically assume paternity when the parents are legally married at the time of the child’s birth. Additionally, New Jersey assumes paternity when the birth occurs within 300 days (10 months) of a divorce or the husband’s death.

This means that the hospital will automatically write the father’s name on the baby’s birth certificate, legally making him the father of the child. If the parents are not married or it is outside this time frame, they will need to establish paternity either voluntarily or through a paternity action culminating in a court order dictating the child’s paternity.

What is the process to voluntarily establish paternity in Pennsylvania? New Jersey?

When both the mother and father agree that they are the child’s parents, they can acknowledge this by signing a document to officially establish paternity. In many cases, they sign this document at the hospital shortly after the child is born, and they put the father’s name on the birth certificate at this time. You can also sign these forms at a later date, after which the courts will add the legal father’s name to a revised birth certificate.

In Pennsylvania, the document is a “Voluntary Acknowledgment of Paternity,” or Form PA-CS 611. While you must sign the form in front of an adult witness, it does not require notarization. Once completed, file the form with the Department of Public Welfare.

In New Jersey, this document is the “Certificate of Parentage,” sometimes known as a Voluntary Acknowledgment form. This form requires signing in front of a notary, who will stamp the paperwork. File the form with your local Registrar or County Welfare Agency to complete the process.

What is process for involuntary paternity establishment?

Involuntary establishment of paternity is more complicated. The only way to establish paternity without both parties agreeing is through a court issuing an order of paternity. This occurs after a court proceeding determines the identity of the father following a paternity dispute.

Any of the following can file a petition to determine paternity:

  • The mother
  • A man seeking to prove paternity

In many cases, this petition is simply requesting the court to establish paternity. In others, however, the mother files a complaint for child support and this necessitates the need to determine the identity of the father.

If the mother and father continue to disagree on paternity, the court typically orders a genetic comparison of DNA from the child and the father. Many parents worry about putting their child through this type of testing, but modern tests require only a small saliva sample. The parents can also request this testing before the court issues an order.

Based on the results of the test, the court will rule on the legal relationship between the man and child. If the samples match 95 percent or greater, the court issues an order of paternity, and the father’s name goes on the amended birth certificate. The mother is then eligible to file for a child support order and the parents can negotiate an appropriate parenting plan or custody schedule.