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There are multiple ways to establish paternity that fit different situations.

In most states, paternity is determined by:

Paternity by assumption

The husband is presumed to be the legal father if the mother is married. However, a married man may legally challenge paternity if he believes he is not the father. Genetic testing (a DNA test) can be requested in this case.

Paternity by agreement

Both parties can sign an Acknowledgment of Paternity (AOP) form (also called an Affidavit of Paternity) if neither parent disputes paternity. This form helps unmarried parents voluntarily establish paternity and is signed by both parents. Hospitals may offer this form to a father present at the child’s birth. It can also be signed after the child’s birth. However, a fee may be involved, which includes changing the birth certificate.

Paternity set through legal action

For paternity disputes, the mother or father may file a paternity action to use the legal system to establish paternity. DNA testing can be court-ordered in contested paternity. The court can also use circumstantial evidence, such as if a man has publicly presented himself as the father.

Paternity laws vary per state. So it’s important to know the rules where the child was born. For instance, some states have a statute of limitations for establishing paternity, such as requiring a paternity suit to be filed before the child is 18 years old. However, other states have no restrictions on when you can file a paternity suit.

Paternity also can be established without the father, such as if the father died before legally determining paternity. Taking this step can ensure the child is legally eligible for any financial benefits or assets in the father’s will. Additionally, if a father doesn’t show up to the court date in a paternity action, the judge can still make him the legal father.

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