Learn about establishing parentage

Find information on the process of establishing parentage.

Parentage is not automatically established unless the parents are married when the child is born. Establishing parentage can be a complicated process; this page will help you navigate through the process.

Parentage – what is it and why is it important?

Parentage means being the legal parent of a child.

Parentage is automatically established if the parents are married when the child is born. The married couple are the child’s legal parents.

If the parents aren't married when the child is born, parentage needs to be established. If you don't establish parentage, your child may only have one legal parent and the other parent’s name will not be on your child’s birth certificate. This is true even if both parents are living together with the child.

Having a legal parent gives your child rights and benefits that aren't available if parentage isn't established. There are many reasons that legal parentage is important to your child:

  • Identity. When you establish parentage for your child, you are both saying, “Yes, this is my child.” This gives your child a sense of identity and connection with both sides of the family. Knowing both parents can improve your child’s chance of success in life.
  • Health. It is important to know about any diseases, physical problems, or other characteristics that may have been passed down from both sides of someone’s family. Knowing both parents’ family medical history will help doctors treat or even prevent medical problems a child might have inherited.
  • Financial Support. Families with children supported by their parents are more likely to have enough money to meet their needs than families supported by only one parent. By establishing parentage, parents make a commitment to support their child to the best of their abilities.
  • Benefits. When parents establish parentage, they make their child eligible for coverage under either parent’s health insurance. If anything should happen to a parent, the child may also be entitled to receive Social Security, pension, veterans’, and inheritance benefits.
  • Public Assistance. If you get public assistance (cash benefits), you must cooperate with DOR to establish parentage and a child support order. If you don't cooperate, your benefits may be reduced.

Asking for DOR’s help to establish parentage

Any parent or guardian of a child under 18 years old, or a person who believes they may be the parent, can ask for DOR’s help to establish parentage. We can also help to establish a child support and medical support order. There is no charge for child support services from DOR. When you apply for our services, we will do our best to help you establish parentage for the child and amend the child’s birth certificate.

If you receive

  • public assistance from the Department of Transitional Assistance (DTA) or
  • medical assistance from the Division of Medical Assistance (MassHealth)

you can talk to a caseworker about the services DOR provides.

If you receive public assistance or medical assistance, you must cooperate with DOR’s efforts to establish parentage and get a child support and medical support order as a condition of receiving the assistance.

If you don't cooperate, your family’s public assistance benefits could be reduced, unless you qualify for a good cause waiver.

When you get a good cause waiver, it means that DTA has determined that you have a good reason not to cooperate with DOR (for example, if there are domestic violence issues). Your DTA worker can tell you more about a good cause waiver.


Locating the other parent

DOR will try to locate the other parent if the parent who lives with the child (known as the custodial parent) applies for our services or receives public assistance or medical assistance benefits. In certain circumstances, if the child is living with someone other than a parent, DOR will try to locate both parents.

We have a better chance of locating the other parent when the custodial parent gives us as much identifying information as possible about the other parent. Identifying information includes:

  • Full name
  • Social Security number
  • Date and place of birth
  • Home and mailing address
  • Telephone numbers (home, work, mobile)
  • Name and address of other parent’s employer
  • Names of the parents of the other parent
  • Information about the other parent’s car or recreational vehicle (motorcycle, boat, camper)
  • Information about any property the other parent owns

Additional Resources

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