Establishing paternity is the way to legally determine the father of a child who is born to an unmarried woman.
There are two ways to establish paternity:

  • The mother and father can sign a paternity affidavit.
  • A paternity case can be filed in court.

A paternity affidavit is a document that can be used to establish paternity. This document can be signed at the hospital within 72 hours of the child’s birth, or at the local health department at a later time. Both the mother and the father must sign the affidavit. By signing a paternity affidavit, the parents signing the paternity affidavit are stating under oath that the man signing is the father of the child.  Signing the paternity affidavit legally establishes that a man is the father of a child.

Within 60 days of the signing the affidavit, the man who signed the paternity affidavit can file a case and ask for genetic testing. After 60 days, the paternity affidavit can be cancelled only if there is proof that the man was tricked or forced into signing the affidavit, or signed it under a material mistake of fact.  The mother who has signed a paternity affidavit cannot later try to have that paternity affidavit cancelled.  Only the man who signed it has that possibility.

  1. The mother (or pregnant woman).
  2. The man who thinks he is the father of a child.
  3. The mother (or pregnant woman) and father together.
  4. The child.
  5. The division of family and children.
  6. The prosecuting attorney.

Generally, it must be filed within two years of the child’s birth. There are some exceptions. For example, a child can file the case up until the child’s 20th birthday. If the child has received public benefits, the office of family and children can file as long as it is before the child’s 19th birthday or the child’s graduation from high school (whichever is earlier). There are some other exceptions also. Check with your local child support prosecutor if you want to file for paternity.

You don’t have to file for paternity unless you want a child support order. However, if you are receiving TANF, you may have to establish paternity and help get a child support order. Keep in mind, however, that the father can also file a paternity action even if you don’t want to.

No, the mother cannot file to change the paternity affidavit or establish paternity in another man.  When the mother signed the paternity affidavit, she stated under oath that the man on the paternity affidavit is the father.  She cannot change that. The biological father could file a paternity case in court.  The legal father who signed the paternity affidavit can try to have that paternity affidavit set aside (“rescinded”).  But the mother cannot do either of those things.

Yes, but the paternity action must be filed during the father’s life or within 5 months of his death. You may want to file a paternity action even after the father has died so that the child may be able to inherit from the father, or so the child may be able to get Social Security benefits based upon the father’s work history.

No. If nobody asks for DNA tests, the court does not have to order them. However, a party can request  DNA testing if there are concerns about whether or not the man is the father of the child. The parents may have to pay for some or all of the testing costs.

The court will issue orders on custody, parenting time, and child support. The court can also change the child’s last name to the father’s last name.

After paternity is established, the court must start the support order from at least the date the paternity case was filed. The court may even go back to the date of the child’s birth to begin the support order.

The mother of the child has legal custody until a court issues an order saying someone else has custody. So if no court has issued a custody order, the mother of a child born to an unmarried woman has legal custody of that child. Even if the father has signed a paternity affidavit, the mother still has legal custody unless a court has entered a different custody order.

You can contact your local county prosecutor’s office for help with filing a paternity case.

The child support prosecuting attorney must file a paternity action if any of the people listed above request it, and the prosecutor will represent the interests of the child to be supported.  The child support prosecutor is not representing either of the parents.  The child support prosecutor does not charge a fee for this services.

The  child support prosecutor can get initial child support orders, modify support orders, and enforce child support orders.   The child support prosecutor will not help with custody or visitation problems.

You can apply for the assistance of the child support prosecutor at

You can find your local child support prosecutor’s office at

If you want parental rights with the child, you should file for paternity. You should also register with the “putative father’s registry.” If you register with this, you will get notice of any proposed adoption of the child. You should do this immediately if you want to be notified in case of an adoption. You can contact your local health department, vital records division, to register.