Paternity is the establishment of reciprocal duties to provide care owed by the father and the duty to obey the parent by the child, among other duties. It can be established in two ways: voluntary and formal proceedings. This post will go over both proceedings and how they may affect you.
Voluntary proceedings are initiated by some variation of the "Acknowledgment of Paternity" form. Usually, these forms are signed around the time of the birth at the hospital. If they are signed at the hospital, the hospital will typically assist you in filing the paperwork with the court. But you can also file the paperwork later, but then you will need to file with the court. Even if you sign the forms, paternity is not established until it is accepted by the court.
If the other parent refuses to sign the Acknowledgment form, then you can request the court intervene in a formal proceeding. In most states, formal paternity actions take the form of a civil action. The civil action must be filed with the local court, and the judge determines the means by which paternity is established. Usually, the court will order a DNA test, assuming there is sufficient evidence to warrant such a test on a child.
The paternity actions must be filed with the court prior to the father's death. The reason this rule is in place is because these actions can also be filed by the mother or child. If paternity is established, the child is entitled to an inheritance from the father's estate.
If you are trying to establish paternity, you should contact a lawyer. An attorney can go over the specifics of paternity actions and what method is best for you. You don't need to go through these child custody issues alone. Contesting a paternity action can get complicated, especially because a child is involved. A lawyer can help keep your case focused on the facts and the law, to maximize your chance of securing your rights as a father.