Q. What is a Paternity case?
A. A Paternity case is a Family Court case that names a child's legal father if the child's parents were not married to each other when the child was born.
Q. What happens once a man is named as the legal father?
A. The man has the right to ask a court for legal custody or visitation rights to the child.
Q. Who is allowed to start a Paternity case?
A. The following:
* The child's mother
* The man who believes he is the father
* The child or child's guardian
* The Department of Social Services if the child is receiving public assistance
Q. How do I start a Paternity case?
A. By filing a Paternity Petition in Family Court. The person who starts the case is called the "petitioner." In most cases, the petitioner is one of the parents. The other parent (the one who did not start the case) is called the "respondent" and must come to court when the court papers say.
Q. What happens in court?
A. The most common thing is that the child's mother and father will tell the judge, referee, or hearing examiner that the man named in the Paternity petition is in fact the child's father - if that is the truth. If that sounds truthful in the courtroom, and there is nothing in the child's birth certificate that shows something different, the judge, referee, or hearing examiner will name the man as the child's legal father in an order called an Order of Filiation.
Q. What else might happen?
A. The judge, referee, or hearing examiner might order DNA tests on the mother, father, and child for more evidence. DNA is a body chemical that everyone has. By reviewing the DNA information of the people in the case, the court can decide whether the man named in the court papers is actually the child's father.
Q. What happens if the mother was married to another man at the time the child was born?
A. The mother's husband at the time of the child's birth is the legal father of the child unless the court decides to name a different man based on the evidence. The evidence will usually include court testimony by the mother, by her husband at the time of the child's birth, and by the man who is supposed to be the real father. The evidence will also usually include DNA tests.
Q. Do I need a lawyer for a Paternity case?
A. Both the petitioner and the respondent have the right to hire their own lawyers. A respondent who cannot afford to hire a lawyer has the right to have a lawyer assigned by the court at no cost.
Q. What is an Acknowledgment of Paternity?
A. An Acknowledgment of Paternity is a paper, usually filled out at the hospital at the time of a child's birth, where the mother and father say that the man signing the paper is the father of the child. An Acknowledgment of Paternity does the same thing as a court Order of Filiation and will permit a hospital or Department of Health to name the man as the child's father on the birth certificate.