Paternity means fatherhood. Establishing paternity is the legal process of determining the biological father of a child. When parents are married, paternity is usually established automatically. If parents are unmarried, paternity establishment is not automatic and the process should be started by both parents as soon as possible for the benefit of the child.
Without the establishment of paternity, the father does not have the legal rights or legal responsibilities of a parent. Establishing paternity is necessary before custody, visitation, and child support can be ordered by the court. Establishing paternity allows an unmarried father to have his name placed on the birth certificate.
Paternity can be established either by signing a Declaration of Paternity form or by going to court. If a father becomes involved with his child from the beginning of the child's life, he is more likely to continue to care both financially and emotionally for the child as he or she grows.