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Paternity for Unmarried Parents

Produced by Jeff Wolf, Massachusetts Law Reform Institute
Reviewed August 2015

"Paternity" means that there is a legal relationship between a father and his child.

Paternity is important.

When there is a legal relationship between a father and his child:

  • the child has the right to be supported by both parents
  • the child can benefit from knowing the medical histories of both parents
  • the child can be included in the health insurance of either parent
  • the child can receive the benefits that both parents have earned such as Social Security and veterans’ benefits
  • the child can inherit from both parents
  • the child can have a relationship with two parents

If the mother and the father are married, the husband is the child’s legal father.  As soon as your child is born, he or she has all these rights, benefits, and opportunities. The husband's name will go on the birth certificate. You can change paternity when parents are married, but you must go to court.

If you are not married, your child does not have a legal father right away. If you both want your child to have a legal father as soon as possible, you can establish paternity voluntarily. Establishing paternity is the way to make sure your child has a legal father. Voluntarily means both parents are willing to sign papers that say who the father is.

If the parents do not agree about who the father is, you can go to court. In court, the judge decides the paternity of your child. The judge can also make decisions about child support, custody, parenting time and visitation, and protection from abuse.

See Chapter 209C of Massachusetts General Laws for details.

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