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Determining the paternity of a child

In Massachusetts, unmarried parents can sign an agreement that establishes the identity of the legal father if both parties agree or if either party asks the court to do so. The easiest way is for the parties to sign a form, called the voluntary acknowledgement of parentage. No court action is needed, and they can complete the documents at the hospital, through their city or town clerk, or at the Registry of Vital Records and Statistics. In the latter location, the process can be conducted via mail. At the hospital, the parents will not need to pay, but there is a fee associated with filing the paperwork in the other two situations. However, if either parent is uncertain about whom the biological father is, they should ask the court for a paternity test.

Once a paternity acknowledgement is made, it can be rescinded. Either parent can have the acknowledgment voided within 60 days of filing it. If the parent has a separate court hearing related to the child, they must question the child's paternity at that time. If they fail to do, they will not have another opportunity to seek a revocation of the order. Once the 60 days has passed, the order is binding. They can only challenge it in court within a year in limited situations.

The parents also have the option of allowing the court to rule on paternity. The court will order genetic or DNA testing on the involved parties, and the judge will review the findings and make a ruling. Once the judge rules affirmatively, the father will be listed on the birth certificate. He could also be ordered to pay child support.

Questions about paternity can affect all of the involved parties, especially the child. The establishment of paternity is important for the child in a variety of ways and can lead to financial and other benefits.

Source: Commonwealth of Massachusetts, "Frequently Asked Questions", September 22, 2014

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