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Why establishing paternity is important

Legally speaking, paternity means fatherhood. It is the legal establishment of an individual as being the father of a child. This legal relationship can be established either by a court order or by the father’s voluntary acknowledge of paternity. There are many reasons why paternity matters.

Paternity can have important legal consequences. If a father is found to be the legal father either through a DNA test or by voluntary acknowledgement, the court can enter orders against the father. Under Massachusetts law, the father may be required to pay child support and other expenses for the child, such as medical expenses. 

Along the same lines, paternity can help provide stability for both the mother and the child. The mother now has financial support from the father, and the two parents can share responsibility for caring for the child. The child benefits from having access about personal information about the father, such as the father’s medical history and health risks. The child also gains the right to inherit from the father and to receive benefits from the father. For example, if the father is killed due to a work-related injury and receives workers' compensation as a result, the child is eligible to receive a portion of the benefits. The child can also be eligible for coverage under the father's health insurance plan, as well as pension, Social Security, and veteran’s benefits.

In turn, the father benefits from being named as the legal father. A legal father gains rights to child custody and visitation. He can petition the court for parenting time and the right to be involved in making decisions about the child's life.

Having a legal father is also important for a child’s well-being. When a child knows who his or her father is, the child has a better sense of identity. Further, the child may have a higher sense of self-esteem when he or she knows that both parents want to be involved in the child’s life.

If you need help with a paternity action, an experienced family law attorney may be able to help you navigate this complicated—but important—area of law.

Source: Mass.gov, "Paternity Establishment," Accessed May 25, 2015

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