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This content was last updated on 2/13/2024

What is paternity?

Paternity is when you legally establish who is the biological father of a child. If the mother is married when the child is born, her husband is seen as the legal father of the child. If the mother is not married when the child is born, you have to establish paternity.

How do I establish paternity?

There are 2 basic ways that unmarried couples with a baby can establish paternity:

  1. both parents can sign a Voluntary Acknowledgement of Paternity (VAP)
  2. someone files a paternity lawsuit in district court and the judge decides paternity

Using the VAP
This is the easiest way to establish paternity. Both parents have to sign the VAP. They are agreeing that they are the legal biological parents of the child. When the father signs he is also agreeing that:

  • he may become responsible for paying child support and medical insurance. This could also include prenatal medical and birth expenses.
  • he understands that he doesn’t get custody or visitation rights just because he signed the VAP.  However, by signing the VAP, the father does earn the chance to go to court and ask a judge for custody and visitation rights.

When you go to the hospital to deliver your baby, the medical staff will give you the VAP. They also have people there who can answer any general questions you might have.  Remember, they can’t answer specific legal questions about your situation. They can only help with general information.

Both parents should read the VAP carefully. If they understand and agree with the information, they should sign it and date it in front of a notary public. A notary public is a professional witness that is registered with the state of Kentucky. The hospital should have a notary public on staff.

Once both parents have signed the VAP, the father’s name is added to the birth certificate and the hospital sends it to the local Health Department. The Health Department sends the certificate to the Kentucky Office of Vital Statistics. You can ask for a copy of the VAP when you sign it.

The VAP is usually signed in the hospital after the child is born, but it can also be signed outside of the hospital. You can get the form at your Local Health Department or your Local Child Support Office. These offices should have staff that can notarize the paperwork for you.

If both parents do not agree to sign the VAP, the father’s name is not added to the birth certificate and the child does not have a legal father at that time.

If either parent is not sure who the biological father of a child is, they should not sign the VAP and should look into genetic testing.

If either parent changes his/her mind about signing the VAP, they can “rescind” (cancel) it. You have 60 days to rescind. This removes the man as the legal father of the child. You can get a form to rescind at your Local Health Department. This paperwork needs to be filled out and signed in front of a notary public.

If it has been more than 60 days since the VAP was signed and a parent changes their mind, you have to go to court to ask if it can be changed. The burden is on you to prove there is fraud, duress, or material mistake of fact. This means a mistake about facts that could not have been known when the VAP was signed.

Going to Court
You can also establish paternity through the court. A paternity action can be brought to court by several parties:

  • the mother
  • the child
  • a lawyer for the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services
  • the alleged father

The paternity case happens in the district court in the county where any of the parties live. The case is decided by a judge, not a jury.

If both parties agree on who the father is, the judge can issue an order to be signed by the father. The order states that paternity has been legally established, and the father’s name can be added to the birth certificate.

If the parties do not agree on who the father is, you can ask for genetic testing to establish paternity. If the judge orders genetic testing, everyone must agree to get tested. If the genetic testing proves who the father is, the judge enters an order of paternity and the father’s name is added to the birth certificate.

After the court establishes paternity, it can make decisions about custody, visitation and where the child is going live.

What are the benefits of establishing paternity?

There are many reasons why you should establish paternity, including:

  • The parents can work together to make decisions that are best for the child
  • If the mother unexpectedly dies, the father can take steps to get custody of the child
  • The child’s birth certificate has both parents’ names
  • The child can access medical histories from both sides of the family
  • A child with a legal father can qualify for benefits like social security, medical and dental insurance and state and federal inheritance benefits through the father
  • If paternity is established, both parents may have responsibilities to pay child support, keep up with health insurance for the child and pay medical expenses and educational costs for the child.
If the father is out of state and can’t sign the VAP, can I send it to him for his signature?

Yes. He needs to complete his section, show proper ID, and sign in front of a notary public. Then he mails the original signed and notarized VAP directly to:
Office of Vital Statistics
275 East Main Street, 1 E-A
Frankfort, KY 40621

If both parents sign the VAP, does the father have the right to take the child away from the mother?

If a mother is unmarried when her child is born, she is seen as the sole custodial parent and legal guardian of the child unless a court order is made saying something different. After paternity is established, the father can petition the court for visitation rights or custody of the child. If you are in this situation, seek legal advice from a family law lawyer.

I am legally married, but my husband is not the biological father of my child. The biological father wants to be listed on the birth certificate.

Under Kentucky law, if the woman is married from the time of conception to the birth, the husband is seen as the child’s father. This is called the ‘presumed father’. Even if he is not the biological father, his name and information is put on the child’s birth certificate.

But, if the mother has been separated from her husband for 10 months or more before the child is born, the husband’s name and information is not automatically put on the birth certificate.

If the mother, the presumed father, and the biological father all agree, they can complete a Three-Way Paternity Affidavit (VS-8C). This lets the husband deny that he is the father of the child and lets the mother and the child’s biological father acknowledge paternity.

To use the Three-Way Paternity Affidavid (VS-8C), all 3 people must complete and sign the form. Their signatures must be notarized by a public notary. For more information, contact the Kentucky Office of Vital Statistics.

How much does a genetic test cost?

Child Support Enforcement (CSE) pays the cost of the genetic testing.

How is genetic testing performed?

Genetic tests need a DNA sample from the mother, alleged father, and the child. The sample is taken by rubbing a swab on the inside of the mouth. The samples are sent to a lab for analysis and are usually back within a month, although sometimes it can take longer.

Can the parents complete the VAP if neither of them is a U.S. citizen?

Yes, as long as the child was born in Kentucky. Both parents have to show proper ID to complete the VAP.

My child’s father died. How do I prove that he is the father?

If this is your scenario, we advise you to contact a lawyer. We do not suggest representing yourself.  You can contact your local legal aid program for more information.


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