Massachusetts law about paternity (parentage)

A compilation of laws, regulations, cases, and web sources on establishing who is a child's legal parent.

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Table of Contents

Best bet

Paternity issues: family law advocacy for low and moderate income litigants, 3d ed., 2018, Chapter 7. Mass. Legal Services.
Includes how to establish paternity, how to answer a complaint, and custody and visitation, with checklists and sample forms.

Massachusetts laws

MGL c. 209C Children born out of wedlock

“A man is presumed to be the father of a child and must be joined as a party if (1) he is or has been married to the mother and the child was born during the marriage, or within three hundred days after the marriage was terminated by death, annulment or divorce.”

MGL c. 46 Return and registry of births, marriages & deaths

MGL c. 119A, § 3A Establishment of paternity; genetic marker tests

MGL c. 190B, § 2-114 Descent and distribution: parent and child relationship

MGL c. 209D, § 7-701 Proceeding to determine parentage

MGL c. 273, § 15 Duty to support child born out of wedlock; conclusiveness of adjudication or acknowledgment of paternity

Massachusetts regulations

830 CMR 18A.1 Cooperation by applicants for and recipients of public assistance with efforts by the Child Support Enforcement Division of the Department of Revenue to establish parentage and establish, modify and enforce child support orders

Federal laws

42 USC §§ 651 et seq. Child support and establishment of paternity


Paternity forms (English & Portuguese)

Selected case law

Partanen v. Gallagher, 475 Mass. 632 (2016)
A woman may use the paternity statute, chapter 209C, to establish her own parentage of a child without a biological relationship to that child. MGL c. 209C should be read in gender-neutral terms. Chapter 209C, § 1 requires "an allegation that the children were 'born to [two people] who are not married to each other.'" Chapter 209C, § 6 (a)(4) requires an allegation that the presumed parent, "jointly with the mother, received the child into their home and openly held out the child as their child." In this case, the plaintiff "asserts that the children were born both to her and to Gallagher, because Gallagher's pregnancies and the children's births took place with Partanen's 'full acknowledgment, participation, and consent.' She asserts also, with respect to the "holding out" provision, that she and Gallagher jointly received the children into their home and openly held out the children as theirs." This is sufficient to bring an action for parentage, and the case should not have been dismissed.

Adoption of a Minor, 471 Mass 373 (2015)
Lawful parentage, and its associated rights and responsibilities, are conferred by statute on the consenting spouse of a married couple whose child is conceived by one woman of the marriage, through the use of assisted reproductive technology consented to by both women. (Chapter 46 sec 4B)

Cosgrove v. Hughes, 78 Mass. App. Ct. 739 (2011)
"If a decedent has acknowledged paternity of a person born out of wedlock . . . that person is heir of his father." The child does not have to prove a biological connection.

Custody of Zia, 50 Mass. App. Ct. 237 (2000)
Father was entitled to sole legal and physical custody of child born out of wedlock where mother was "deficient and obstructive."

Department of Revenue v. Roe, 29 Mass. App. Ct. 967 (1990)
This case authorizes orders for current and back child support and the provision for health insurance.

Department of Revenue v. Ryan R., 62 Mass. App. Ct. 380 (2004)
A mother could bring a paternity action for child support against a putative father [alleged biological father whose paternity is not legally established] even though she was married to another man at the time of the child's birth and her husband was listed as the child's father on the birth certificate.

D.H. v. R.R., 461 Mass. 756 (2012)
Outlines the history and procedure for a putative father to of a child born to a married woman to bring a paternity action. In this case, the putative father did not know the mother was married when the child was born, and the husband had not "executed an affidavit denying his paternity during the mother's lifetime, and thus the voluntary acknowledgement of parentage [by the putative father] was not effective as a matter of law and lacked the force or effect of a judgment of paternity."

G.E.B. v. S.R.W, 422 Mass. 158 (1996)
A child was not bound by a prior settlement agreement of her mother and father where she was not a party and the mother was not the legal representative of the child. The court therefore affirmed a paternity order brought by the child against the father.

Hunter v. Porter, 57 Mass. App. Ct. 233 (2003)
An illegitimate child sought to establish her legal right to inherit from her alleged father’s estate but did so 20 months after the alleged father’s death. Case was dismissed as untimely due to MGL c. 190 § 7 (repealed by 2008 Mass. Ch. 521) and MGL c. 197 § 9 (repealed by 2008 Mass. Ch. 521).

Lowell v. Kowalski, 380 Mass. 663 (1980)
When paternity is conceded, there is no justification for denying the right of a child to inherit from his or her natural father.

O'Connell v. Greenwood, 59 Mass. App. Ct. 147 (2003)
Absent clear provisions in the paternity judgment to the contrary, mother who shared legal custody of a child born out of wedlock is not prohibited from (1) enrolling child in school using last name of mother's husband; (2) insisting that child call mother's husband "daddy;" nor (3) instructing child's school not to release child to father.

Paternity of Cheryl, 434 Mass. 23 (2001)
More than 5 years after he had voluntarily acknowledged paternity, a man underwent DNA tests which determined that he was not the child's father. He then brought this action to vacate the paternity judgment. The court held that he was still liable to support the child because of the "compelling public interest in the finality of paternity judgments," the clear intent of G.L. c.209C, sec. 11 to limit the ability of a man who voluntarily acknowledges paternity to then challenge it, and the best interests of the child.

Web sources

Child support (TAFDC), MassLegalHelp.
"The TAFDC Child Support rules require all recipients to "cooperate" in identifying and locating the absent father (or mother) of each child."

Information for DOR customers who need to establish paternity or go to court, Mass. Dept. of Revenue (English and Spanish)
Explains the process of asking for DOR’s help to establish paternity.

Learn about establishing paternity, Mass. Dept. of Revenue.
Explains the process of asking for DOR’s help to establish paternity.

Learn about paternity testing, Mass. Dept. of Revenue.
Information about testing procedure, receiving results, and cost.

Parents who were never married: establishing paternity in Massachusetts, Lynch & Owens, P.C.
Provides a comprehensive explanation of how to establish paternity.

Paternity for unmarried parents, MassLegalHelp.
Information for mothers on deciding to bring a paternity action and the process and forms for doing so.

Paternity in Massachusetts,
“Learn how you can establish paternity and why it's beneficial for your child in Massachusetts.”


Print sources

Disputed paternity proceedings, by Nina M. Vitek. Matthew Bender, loose-leaf.

Family law and practice, 4th ed., (Mass. Practice v. 3), Thomson Reuters 2013 with supplement. Chapter 89 (includes forms on disk).

LexisNexis practice guide: Massachusetts family law, LexisNexis, chap. 10. 

Massachusetts domestic relations, LexisNexis, with supplement, vol. 2, chap. 23 (includes forms).

Paternity and the law of parentage in Massachusetts, 3d ed., MCLE, 2018 (includes forms).

Summary of basic law, 5th ed., (Mass. Practice v. 14B) Thomson Reuters 2014 with supplement. Section 8:145. “Voluntary acknowledgement – recission." 


Last updated: December 29, 2022

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