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Learn about establishing paternity

Find information on the process of establishing paternity.

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

Paternity – what is it and why is it important?

Paternity means legal fatherhood.

Paternity is automatically established if the parents are married when the child is born. The husband is the child’s legal father.

If the parents aren't married when the child is born, paternity needs to be established. If you don't establish paternity, your child doesn't have a legal father. This is true even if both parents are living together with the child.

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

  • Identity. When you establish paternity 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 2 parents are more likely to have enough money to meet their needs than families supported by only 1 parent. By establishing paternity, both parents make a commitment to support their child to the best of their abilities.

  • Benefits. When parents establish paternity, they make their child eligible for coverage under either parent’s health insurance. If anything should happen to the father, the child may also be entitled to receive Social Security, pension, veterans’ and inheritance benefits.

  • Public Assistance. If you get public assistance (welfare), you must cooperate with DOR to establish paternity and a child support order. If you don't cooperate, your benefits may be reduced.

Asking for DOR’s help to establish paternity

Any parent or guardian of a child under 18 years old, or a man who believes he may be the parent, can ask for DOR’s help to establish paternity. 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 paternity for the child.

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 paternity 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 the biological mother or father, 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 other parent’s mother and father

  • Information about the other parent’s car or recreational vehicle (motorcycle, boat, camper)

  • Information about any property the other parent owns

We will also try to help the custodial parent determine who the father is, if the mother is unsure. The mother has to provide us with some basic information about the man she believes is the father. Once we are able to find the man, we will ask the mother, child and man who may be the father to have a paternity test.

In some cases, the mother may have been married to someone who isn't the child’s biological father. If the mother was married to someone else

  • when the child was conceived

  • during the pregnancy, or

  • at the time of birth

the man she was married to (the husband) is automatically the legal father – even if they weren’t living together.

Before the mother and the biological father can acknowledge parentage of the child, the mother and the mother’s husband must sign a form called Affidavit of Non-Paternity. This form states that the mother and her husband agree that the husband isn't the child’s father. Then the Affidavit of Non-Paternity is filed in the City or Town Clerk’s Office or the RVRS with the Voluntary Acknowledgment of Parentage (signed by the mother and the biological father) or the court’s judgment of paternity. The biological father can sign the Voluntary Acknowledgment of Parentage, even if he is or was married to someone else when the child was conceived or born.

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