Paternity issues depend on whether the parents were married or unmarried at the time of conception.

When a married couple has a child conceived during the marriage, the child is presumed to be the biological child of both parents. This means that both parents have an equal right to share custody and parenting time. However, there are some cases in which paternity may be called into question.

Unmarried Couples

When an unmarried couple has a child, paternity of the child needs to be established. This can happen through the voluntary action of the parents:

  • The father signs the birth certificate and an Acknowledgment of Parentage while mother and child are at the hospital immediately after the birth.
  • The mother names the father on the birth certificate at the hospital and the father signs the Acknowledgment of Parentage at a future time.
  • The birth certificate and Acknowledgment of Parentage are filed with the state.

At times, the father doesn’t have the opportunity to acknowledge the child because:

  • The mother doesn’t want to include father in decision-making or parenting
  • The father is married to someone else and doesn’t want his current spouse to know about the child.

In these cases, a paternity action may need to be filed by the father or mother to establish the father of the child. The mother will also want child support. If the father wants joint legal custody and parenting time, he must request it—because custody and parenting time are not automatically part of a paternity case. When a father voluntarily acknowledges paternity, the mother will have sole legal custody unless he files a paternity act asking for joint custody and parenting time.

The state may start a paternity action to establish the paternity of a child and obtain support for the child. If a father is the defendant, he should remember that the state is interested in obtaining support—including reimbursement for the cost of prenatal care and the birth—not in helping him obtain joint legal custody or parenting time.

If you have questions about paternity, contact the family law attorneys at NSSS&B.