How to establish paternity

Establishing paternity means determining the legal father of a child. There are 2 ways to establish paternity. You can establish paternity by signing a paternity acknowledgement form or you can ask the court to establish paternity.

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Signing a paternity acknowledgment form

You can establish paternity for your child if both parents sign a form called the Voluntary Acknowledgment of Parentage. This is called acknowledging paternity.

Once both parents sign this form and your signatures are notarized, the man becomes the child’s legal father and his name goes on the child’s birth certificate. No one has to go to court. You can establish paternity for your child any time in the child’s life. You can acknowledge paternity in 3 places:

  • In the Hospital at Birth. Parents can sign the Voluntary Acknowledgment of Parentage form in the hospital after the child is born. A worker at the hospital called a birth registrar can help with this. There is no fee when you sign the acknowledgment in the hospital.

  • City or Town Clerk’s Office. If you didn’t acknowledge paternity in the hospital, you can fill out the Voluntary Acknowledgment of Parentage form and bring it to the clerk’s office in the city or town where the child was born. Both parents’ signatures have to be notarized, which the clerk can do. The clerk may charge a fee for filing.

  • Registry of Vital Records and Statistics (RVRS). You can also go to the RVRS to fill out a Voluntary Acknowledgment of Parentage form. There is a fee for filing the form at the RVRS. Please check the RVRS website for details.

If either parent

  • has questions about acknowledging paternity or

  • is unsure about who the child’s biological father really is

you shouldn't sign the Voluntary Acknowledgment of Parentage form. Instead, you should ask the court or DOR for paternity tests.

Undoing a paternity acknowledgment

Legal fatherhood is established as of the date both parents sign the acknowledgment form, as long as it is correctly completed and filed. After both parents sign the acknowledgment form, there is a 60-day period when you can ask the court to “rescind” (cancel) the paternity acknowledgment.

  • You have to file a complaint in Probate and Family Court to ask the judge to cancel the acknowledgment. The court will order you to have paternity tests.

  • During the 60-day period after you sign the acknowledgment, if you ask the court to cancel the paternity acknowledgment and you participate in a court hearing about the child, (for example, a hearing about child support, custody, or care and protection), you have to tell the court that there is an issue about the child’s paternity. If you don’t tell the court about the paternity issue, the paternity acknowledgment becomes as binding (final) as a court judgment of paternity and you won't be able to cancel the paternity acknowledgment.

  • After 60 days, the acknowledgment is as binding (final) as a court judgment.

  • There are limited reasons that parents can challenge an acknowledgment after the 60-day period passes. The challenge has to be:

    • Made in court

    • Within 1 year of the date you signed the acknowledgment

    • Only for reasons of fraud, duress (being forced to do something against your will) or material (important) mistake of fact.

Asking the court to establish paternity

The second way to establish paternity is to start a court action.

Either parent, or the child, can ask the court to establish paternity.

You can also apply for DOR’s services and we will help you establish paternity for a child under 18 years of age.

As part of a court action, a judge may order you to have paternity tests. The biological mother, the child and the man who may be the father all need to have the test. These tests are usually quick, easy and painless.

After reviewing the test results and other relevant information, the judge decides whether or not the man is the child’s father. If the judge decides the man is the child’s father:

  • The judge enters an order that the man is the child’s legal father. This establishes paternity for the child.

  • The father’s name goes on the child’s birth certificate.

In some cases, a judge may determine a child’s paternity without paternity tests. This can happen if the man who may be the father doesn’t appear in court. The judge can consider other evidence (proof) that the man is the father, including the mother’s testimony (information she tells the court).

At any time during the court process, you can sign a Voluntary Acknowledgment of Parentage form and the judge won’t have to decide paternity. However, the judge or DOR may still require you to have paternity tests before you sign the acknowledgment form. If you start a court process to determine paternity and then decide to sign a Voluntary Acknowledgment of Parentage Form, you lose the right to ask the judge to rescind (cancel) the acknowledgment form after it is signed.

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