Establishing Paternity in PA

Smiling Father Feeding Baby On Floor

When parents are married, establishing paternity usually is straightforward. Typically, the husband is listed as the legal father on the child’s birth certificate and that’s that. But what happens when parents are unmarried, the paternity of a child is in dispute, or other issues arise? The child custody lawyers at Thomas, Conrad & Conrad help clients understand how to establish paternity in Pennsylvania, which can protect the rights of the father and child and hold parents accountable for financial support.

Why Is It Important to Establish Paternity?

All parents have certain rights and obligations, regardless of gender. When a father establishes paternity, it gives him the right to petition the court for custody or visitation with the child. It also can benefit a child when it comes to matters surrounding child support, medical insurance, life insurance, Social Security and other government benefits, and inheritance. Establishing paternity also can allow a child and father to develop a relationship and strengthen their bond. In addition, it gives children access to their father’s genetic history if any medical issues or questions about health history need to be addressed. 

Establishing Paternity Voluntarily

In Pennsylvania, the paternity of a minor child can be established either voluntarily or involuntarily. If parents are unmarried and agree that the father is the biological father of the child, they must sign a Voluntary Acknowledgement of Paternity, or VAP. It must be signed by both parties in front of a witness who is at least 18 years of age.

A VAP often is completed and signed at the hospital when the child is born. You also can obtain a VAP at a local Department of Public Welfare office or the Domestic Relations office of the county court. The completed and signed VAP must then be filed with the Department of Public Welfare. Once it is properly filed, the father’s name is added to the child’s birth certificate and he is legally considered the child’s father.

If both parents are on the same page and plan to share the care and financial support of the child, hiring a family attorney or seeking court intervention usually are unnecessary. However, if a man claims to be the father of a child and files a VAP but the mother refuses to sign it, the Department of Public Welfare will register it as a claim of paternity for the child. This doesn’t automatically give the father rights to the child – if he wants custody or visitation rights, he must go to court and establish paternity involuntarily. In this case, seeking the counsel of an experienced child custody attorney can help you better understand your rights and how the process works. It’s also vital to talk to a family law attorney if you’re a mother who’s dealing with someone who claims to be the father of your child and wants to establish paternity.

Involuntary Establishment of Paternity

A parent can seek to involuntarily establish paternity by filing a Petition to Determine Paternity with the local Family Court. Mothers also can begin the paternity establishment process by filing a Complaint for Child Support with the Family Court. When either parent disputes or denies paternity, the court may order DNA testing to determine whether or not someone is the father of a child. If the court determines that the alleged father is the child’s biological father, a judge will issue an order of paternity that makes him the legal father, and his name will be listed on the child’s birth certificate.

Dealing with the involuntary establishment of paternity can be messy, especially in cases where the mother of a child deceives a man to make him believe he is the biological father when he is not. Even if a couple is married, in this situation a father may have the right to compel paternity testing by the family court and may be relieved of child support obligations if he is not the biological father. However, this is not a decision that should be made lightly. It’s important to keep in mind that if he is found not to be the biological father, he also may have to give up custody and visitation rights, which can have a detrimental impact on not only the child but the whole family.

Why Hire a Child Custody Attorney to Establish Paternity?

Whether you are a mother or father, if you’re concerned about your child’s paternity, it’s crucial to seek the advice of an experienced family law attorney. Issues surrounding child custody and support likely will arise, and you’ll want to make sure that your rights are protected and your child’s best interests are always at the forefront. 

Contact an Eastern PA Custody Lawyer

The child custody attorneys at Thomas, Conrad & Conrad are dedicated to helping families sort out issues of paternity, child support, and other matters while keeping the interests of children in mind. We provide compassionate, competent legal counsel to clients throughout the Pocono Mountains region and the Lehigh Valley. To schedule a consultation, call our Bethlehem office at 610-867-2900 or contact us online.


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