How to Establish Paternity

How to Establish Paternity

Below is an overview of general issues involved when establishing paternity of a child when the parents are unmarried.

Paternity merely means “the state of being a father; fatherhood.” Should an unmarried couple have a child, it’s important that the father’s paternity gets established promptly following the child being born. This safeguards the mother, the baby, and particularly the father, by greatly decreasing the potential that a judge is going to refuse the father custody or visitation rights of his child, or other rights in which fathers are entitled to legally. It also helps guarantee that the child is going to be qualified to receive benefits from their father, comprising of health, disability survivors’, and life insurance benefits.

Don’t forget that parents are legally responsible for their children and their reinforcement, regardless of if the parents are married or not. And even if the father didn’t want the child, or broke it off with his partner prior to the baby being born, he stay obligated for the child’s support. Having a recognition of paternity is vital in receiving this financial support.

Naming the Baby and Obtaining a Birth Certificate

In many states, choosing your baby’s first, middle, and last name is flexible. Regardless of marital status, there’s no obligation to give the child the last name of either parent, and taking the father’s last name isn’t necessary for legitimacy.

Naming your baby is a straightforward process. A representative from the health department or a hospital caseworker meets with the new mother shortly after birth, asking about the child’s name, the mother’s health, and the father’s details. While naming isn’t mandatory at this time, it’s commonly done. The provided information is signed by the mother and used to issue a birth certificate, usually without specifying the parents’ marital status.

If the baby isn’t born at a medical facility, the mother or the attending individual must notify healthcare personnel of the birth. Naming isn’t legally required at this moment, but it’s customary.

If the mother hasn’t named the baby or disclosed the father’s identity, the birth certificate can be updated later. Each state’s Department of Health or Bureau of Vital Statistics has procedures for adding the father’s name or modifying the child’s name on the birth certificate. To include the father’s name, many states require the unmarried father to sign a voluntary affidavit acknowledging paternity form.

Naming the Father: Establishing Paternity

The easiest method of establishing the father’s paternity is by placing his name on the baby’s birth certificate. Through US Department of Health and Human Services statutes, each state must offer unwed parents a chance to establish paternity by signing an acknowledgment of paternity form voluntarily, either at the medical facility or at a later date. In a lot of states, as a result of political pressure to decrease the number of mothers on welfare by guaranteeing that there is another person with an obligation of supporting the child, medical facility personnel are going to make every attempt at getting the father to sign the form.

In many states, the only way an un-married father’s name can be put on a child’s birth certificate is when they sign a voluntary affidavit acknowledging paternity form.

When the father isn’t present at the medical facility after the birth, the mother can’t list him on the birth certificate. Instead, both parents must sign a voluntary acknowledgment of paternity later to establish the father’s name on the child’s birth certificate. This acknowledgment holds the same legal weight as a court order, firmly establishing the father’s paternal rights once submitted to the relevant agency. In states requiring this acknowledgment before including the father’s name, if you separate before the baby’s birth and your ex-partner refuses to sign, you may need to file a lawsuit to establish paternity.

Preparing a Paternity Statement

When both of you are present for the birth, and it’s obvious that your partner is the child’s father, it’s likely that you are going to be unable to leave the medical facility without putting the father’s name on the birth certificate or signing an affidavit acknowledging paternity form. Nevertheless, if by any chance you don’t place the father’s name on the birth certificate or by signing a voluntary affidavit acknowledging paternity form at the medical facility, then it is vital that you create and then signing either or an informal “paternity statement”.

Official State Paternity Statements

In some places, dads can officially claim their kids by signing forms. Rules vary by state, so check if DIY forms work or if you need an official state form. Contact your state health department for details.

Informal Paternity Statements

If you haven’t signed a paternity statement at the hospital, create your own using the provided sample. Include names, dates, and locations. Notarize for added confirmation after the father’s passing.

The mother and father need to each retain a copy of their notarized statement. Many states have established methods of filing paternity statements with state agencies. For information on accomplishing this, get a hold of your state’s Department of Health or Bureau of Vital Statistics. To locate your state department of health visit NCHS.

Legal Disputes Over Paternity

Legal issues related to paternity often revolve around a father’s responsibility for child support. Refusing to sign a paternity statement doesn’t exempt a father from child support obligations. If a father doesn’t voluntarily sign, the state may go to court to establish paternity and determine child support.

Paternity disputes extend to the father’s parental rights. Signing a paternity statement post-childbirth usually establishes these rights, unless custody or adoption conflicts arise. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that delaying until a custody dispute risks losing complete parental rights, except with a continuous relationship. For instance, the Court denied a father’s adoption contest due to a lack of a genuine relationship and delayed legitimization.

Some states require prompt paternity filing for adoption notice; others prioritize paternal rights, particularly if actively forming a relationship.

Do Not Acknowledge Paternity if You Are Not the Father

While signing a paternity statement is prudent if you’re the father, if uncertain or not the father, refrain from signing. Agreeing to a paternity statement means assuming responsibility for child support and potentially compensating the state for public assistance payments unless proven not to be the child’s father.

Do Not Lie About the Child’s Father

In states where the mother can name the father, some are tempted to list a different name, especially if not with the biological father. This often occurs when involved with someone else. However, falsely naming someone as the father can lead to legal complications.

Predicting the future of an unmarried couple’s relationship is challenging, and misnaming the father raises complex paternity and support issues. In a well-known case (In re Clausen, 502 N.W.2d 649 (Mich. 1993)), a mother wrongly named her new boyfriend as Baby Jessica’s father, causing a legal battle when the biological father sought custody. To avoid such issues, it’s crucial to accurately identify the baby’s biological father.


  1. Nolo. (2020, November 6). How to establish paternity. Retrieved June 24, 2022, from

Speak With Our Child Custody Attorney In Scottsdale

Our attorneys are experts when it comes in child custody and guardianship, ensuring your family’s best interests.

An experienced family law attorney will work with you to obtain the best possible outcome in your situation. We advocate for our clients, so they have the brightest future possible. Give us a call today at 480-999-0800 for a free consultation.

Recent Posts



Finding the right mediator can be difficult.


Divorce and Family Law

When a case demands litigation, you’ll have the benefit of 19 years of litigation experience in California and Arizona. But when a case demands collaborative law, or mediation, we can meaningfully describe why collaborative law or mediation may or may not be your best option.

Moshier Law services all of Phoenix and Scottsdale, Arizona. Jennifer and her team of professionals seek to resolve Family Law cases efficiently with your goals in mind.

Jennifer Moshier, Scottsdale Divorce Lawyer

Trail Potter  –  Divorce  Lawyer

Moshier Law - Phoenix Divorce, DCS and CPS, Custody, Estate Planning, Probate, and Adoption Lawyers