General Information About Paternity

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What is establishing paternity?
Establishing paternity is the way to legally determine the father of a child who is born to an unmarried woman. Signing the father's name on a birth certificate is not enough to legally determine paternity. (However, if the mother is married when the child is born, her husband is legally considered the father of the child and paternity does not need to be legally determined).

There are two ways to establish paternity:

  1. The mother and father can sign a paternity affidavit.
  2. A paternity case can be filed in court.

Who can file a paternity case in court?

  1. The mother;
  2. The man who thinks he is the father of a child;
  3. The mother and father together;
  4. The child;
  5. The person or agency supporting the child.

The county attorney or Cabinet for Health and Family Services must file a paternity action if any of the people listed above request it. The county attorney's office will also usually ask for a child support order, but will usually not help with custody or visitation problems.

When should I file a paternity case?
Generally, it must be brought within eighteen years of the child's birth. However, if you want to have rights to the child, you should do it as soon as possible.

I just had a baby, and I am not married. I don’t like the father. Do I have to establish paternity?
You don't have to file for paternity unless you want a child support order. If you wait for over four (4) years from the child's birth to file a paternity action, you might not be able to get back child support for those four years. (However, if you are receiving TANF, you may have to establish paternity and help get a child support order). Keep in mind, however, that the father can also file a paternity action even if you don't want to.

Can I file a paternity action after the father has died?
You may want to file a paternity action even after the father has died so that the child may be able to inherit from the father, or so the child may be able to get Social Security benefits based upon the father's work history. However, there may be time limitations on this, so you should talk with an attorney as quickly as possible.

Do we have to have blood tests done?
No. If nobody asks for blood tests, the court does not have to order them. However, if anyone asks, the court must order blood or genetic testing. The parents may have to pay for some or all of the testing costs.

What is a paternity affidavit?
A paternity affidavit is another way to establish paternity. It can be signed at the hospital, or at the local health department. Both the mother and the father must sign the affidavit. Within 60 days of the signing the affidavit, however, anyone who is entitled to file a paternity case can file a case.

What happens after the man is found to be the father of a child by the court?
The court will issue orders on custody, visitation and child support. The court can also change the child's last name to the father's last name.

When does child support begin in a paternity case?
After paternity is established, the court must start the support order from at least the date the paternity case was filed. The court may even go back to the date of the child's birth to begin the support order.

Who has custody of a child born to an unmarried woman?
The mother of the child has legal custody until a court issues an order saying someone else has custody. So if no court has issued a custody order, the mother of the child has legal custody of that child. Even if the father has signed the birth certificate or a paternity affidavit, the mother still has legal custody unless a court has entered a different custody order.

What if I want to file for paternity?
You can contact your local county prosecutor's office for help with filing a paternity case.

What if I think I might be the father of a newborn child?
If you want parental rights with the child, you should file for paternity.

Reviewed August 2009