Establishing parentage is important for both the child and the father and must be done before a child support order can be established. There are several ways that parentage can be established.
1. Automatic Legal Relationship
If the parents are married or in a registered domestic partnership when the child is born, there is an automatic legal relationship between the mother's spouse or the domestic partner and the child. The spouse's or domestic partner's name will be placed on the birth certificate. The mother's spouse or domestic partner is presumed to be the child's parent by virtue of the legal union.
In the District of Columbia, when a child is born to unmarried parents or parents who are not in a domestic partnership, there is no automatic legal relationship between the father and the child. There are two other ways to establish parentage for a child.
2. Voluntary Acknowledgment of Paternity (AOP)
Parentage can be established for a child if a mother and father voluntarily sign an Acknowledgement of Paternity. This method is available to parents if the mother was not married or in a registered domestic partnership at the time of birth, conception or anytime in between. If both parents complete the AOP form, they don't have to go to court to establish parentage for their child(ren), and the father's name will be placed on the birth certificate.
3. Court Order
CSSD can help parents establish parentage through the court:
- Filing a Petition - If the person you suspect to be your child's parent disputes that he or she is the child's parent, you can establish parentage through CSSD. The Child Support office can help you file a petition with the DC Superior Court. This petition will name the individual you suspect is your child's legal parent and request a child support order.
- Court Hearing - The DC Superior Court will hold a hearing , which the mother and potential parent must attend. At this hearing, the potential parent has a chance to admit if he or she is the child's legal parent.
- Genetic Testing - If the man named as the child's father is not sure if he is the father, or denies that he is, the court may order a genetic test. If the test proves he is the child's father, the court will issue an order that establishes the child's paternity. This order is legal proof establishing your child's parentage.
Orders of parentage may not be rescinded by the named parent. If an individual wants to contest an order of parentage, he or she must file a motion with the court to have the order overturned.
Why Establishing Parentage Is Important
- It creates a legal bond between parent and child.
- Children with parental figures are more likely to stay in school, avoid drugs and crime, and become responsible adults.
- Your child's legally established parent may be required by a court to pay child support and provide health insurance coverage for your child.
- Outside of a legal union, parentage must be established before your child's birth certificate will show the name of the other parent.
- Your child may be eligible for Social Security benefits if a parent becomes disabled or is deceased.
- Your child may be entitled to his or her parent's life insurance benefits.
- Your child may share a right to inherit property from his or her parent's estate.
- Children have access to their parents' medical history.
- Your child may be eligible for medical coverage and life insurance benefits if his or her parent currently works or previously worked for the military.