How To Establish Paternity

how to establish paternityBy Michelle Hughes

Divorce Lawyer, Cordell & Cordell

Whether it is the denial of paternity rights or being the unlawful victim of paternity fraud, fathers must be careful, as paternity law is complex. As more children are born out of wedlock, paternity problems will only become more common.

If you are an unwed father, you must establish paternity to at least prove you are the child’s father, though it doesn’t automatically give you rights regarding custody and visitation.


1. Get on the birth certificate. Once your child is born, the easiest way to establish paternity is by getting your name on the birth certificate. (I know, easier said then done for most of you but it’s worth a shot.)

Voluntary Acknowledgment of Paternity (VAP) forms are also available for fathers to sign at the hospital at the time of the child’s birth.

If the mother refuses to provide your name at the time the baby is born or you don’t sign the VAP, you should contact your state’s Department of Records to obtain information on how to complete the form on your own.

2. Get an order through an administrative agency. Administrative agencies (such as Child Support Enforcement) can be helpful during the initial stages of your paternity action by assisting you with filling out forms and helping you obtain a DNA test to establish that you are the father of the child.


3. Get a court order. In my opinion, this is the best method of establishing paternity. To do so, you must file a Petition for Paternity and Child Custody with your local Circuit Court or Family Court. The court will then order a paternity test or look to see if the father is listed on the birth certificate to determine whether paternity has been established.

A court order will generally include a parenting plan outlining custody, visitation and other important aspects involved in the general upbringing of your child. Without the parenting plan, an unwed father is left at the mercy of the mother of the child.

Most states allow you to file a petition with the court prior to the birth. However, the judge generally will not make a final decision regarding paternity until the child is born so establishing paternity before a child is born is rare.

Even if you establish paternity and your rights to the child, the mother may still refuse you to see your child. If this happens and there is a court order in place allowing visitation, you must immediately contact a family law attorney to file a Motion for Contempt and a Family Access Motion.

This will force the mother to comply with the court order and allow your court-mandated visitation or she could face contempt of court charges.

Cordell & Cordell has experienced and well-qualified family law attorneys located nationwide.


Mens divorce lawyerMichelle Hughes is an Associate Attorney in the Jefferson County, Missouri office of Cordell & Cordell where she practices domestic relations exclusively. Ms. Hughes is licensed in the states of Missouri and Illinois, and the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri. A native to metro St. Louis, Ms. Hughes received her BBA in Economics and Finances from McKendree College. She later received her Juris Doctor from Thomas Cooley Law School where she graduated cum laude.

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