Paternity means fatherhood. Establishing paternity provides a child with a legal father. When the mother is married, the husband is automatically considered the legal father of children born during that marriage. If the mother and father were not married when the mother became pregnant, at any time during the pregnancy or when the child was born, paternity can be established by:
- both parents signing a voluntary Acknowledgment of Paternity ("AOP") (PDF), or
- An order of a District Court declaring a man the legal father of a child (this step may involve genetic testing if the man denies he is the father).
Establishing paternity is important because each parent is important to a child's emotional and physical well-being, and every child has the right to financial and emotional support from both parents. This support can include:
Identity: A child has the right to know and have a relationship with his or her mother and father.
Family ties: A child has a right to know his or her family history. This includes knowing all grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. Extended families provide a sense of belonging for a child.
Money: A child needs the financial support of both parents. Children who are supported by only one parent often do not have their basic needs met. The likelihood that adequate food, clothes, shelter and medical care will be provided for a child increases when both parents provide financial support.
Health: A child's healthy development may depend upon medical and genetic information from both parents. Health problems can often appear later in a child's life. Access to parents' medical history may save or improve the quality of a child's or grown child's life.
Other Benefits: A child has a right to benefits from both parents. These can include: social security dependent benefits, pensions, inheritance rights, health insurance, life insurance, veterans' and other government benefits.
IMPORTANT NOTE: If you are a parent afraid that the other parent of your child will harm you or your child, there is help available. If you are receiving TANF benefits, and fear that naming the other parent may put you or your child in danger, you may be granted "good cause" to receive benefits without revealing information about the baby’s other parent. If you are in this situation, speak with your TANF worker for details about good cause. If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence and would like to talk with an advocate, call 866-834-4357, TRS 800-787-3224. This free, confidential service is available 24/7.