What is a Paternity Action?
When two people have a child together when they aren't married, one of the parents must file a paternity action with the court in order to establish who the legal father is. A paternity action is similar to a family law divorce case, to the extent that child custody and child support issues are handled in very much the same way.
Establishing the Father:
When there is a question as to who the father is, DNA testing may be requested. There are certain time limitations that come into play as far as when such testing may be ordered. Typically, a party (possible father) has two years from the time they become aware of the child to request the DNA testing. THERE ARE EXCEPTIONS! Consult an attorney regarding the time limitations.
If there is no dispute as to who the father is, the parties can avoid requesting DNA testing and simply stipulate as to who the legal father is.
Child Custody & Support:
Once a paternity case is opened and it is established who the legal father is, child custody and child support orders can be requested. (See our information on child custody sand support).
Sooner than Later:
It is always better to establish who the father is, and to establish a child custody arrangement early on so that the child may develop a healthy bond with both parents. The longer a child goes through life without having a relationship with it's father, the more difficult it may become to establish the bond. Don't wait! Your child needs you!
Name of the Child:
Either parent may request that the child's last name be changed. Typically, the court will order a hyphenated last name to reflect the names of both parents. (Example: Richard D. Lacy—Smith). However, if the child is older, the court may not order the change in last name because it may not be in the best interest of the child. For example, say a child has used his original name for a number of years. The court has discretion when making orders for a name change. The court can consider all relative factors and circumstances prior to ordering a name change.