Paternity Options Available to Unmarried Parents

When a married couple has a child, the husband is automatically assumed to be the child’s father. For unmarried couples with children, matters of paternity are not as simple. Even still, it is important that unmarried couples take the necessary steps to establish paternity of their child.

When paternity is established sooner rather than later, it protects the rights of mother, father and, more importantly, the child when it comes to matters of custody and support. Fortunately, unmarried parents have a variety of options available to them when it comes to legally recognizing paternity. A family law attorney can help you through this process.


If a couple expecting a child decides to marry after the child is conceived but before the child is born, the husband is automatically recognized as the father upon birth. However, if the couple holds off on marriage until after the child is born, they will have to take steps to legally recognize the now-husband as the child’s father. This usually involves signing paperwork known as a legitimation form. The legitimation form will give the father the same rights that are granted to couples who are married before a child’s birth.

Voluntarily Establishing Paternity

If a couple with a child never marries, they can still voluntarily seek to establish paternity. This option is best for couples who are certain of the father’s identity. In these circumstances, couples can agree to sign a paternity acknowledgement agreement.

This agreement can be signed directly in the hospital at the time of the child’s birth or at any time thereafter, as long as both parties agree to it. An acknowledgement of paternity is filed with the Bureau of Health Planning & Statistics Office of Vital Records and allows the father’s name to appear on the birth certificate.

In some cases, couples can voluntarily establish paternity without signing a paternity acknowledgement agreement. Most often, this is done with the help of a family lawyer. Both parents can enter into a paternity agreement while also establishing matters of support and custody with the help of their individual family law attorney.

Non-Voluntary Options

When a couple cannot voluntarily agree to matters involving paternity or a question exists to the identity of the father, legal action may be required. An unwed mother can file an action against the person she believes to be the father in order to establish paternity of her child. If the mother receives state support like temporary assistance for needy families (TANF) the state in which she resides may automatically file an action against the putative father in order to recover compensation from him.

In these cases the potential father, often referred to as the putative father, will be required to appear in court and may even need to take a DNA test if he denies paternity. If it is verified that he is the father, a court order will be entered establishing that fact as well as one which determines his support obligations to the child.

Whether unmarried couples voluntarily establish paternity or seek the help of courts to do so, the child often is the one who benefits the most with such a determination. After paternity is established, the child is afforded many legal rights that otherwise would not be available to them. This includes things like the ability to inherit from their father, health insurance coverage, and social security benefits in the event of the father’s death or disability