Child Support – Establishing Paternity

Marital Status

When a child is born to married parents, paternity is established.

When a child is born to an unmarried mother paternity is not established.

Paternity and parentage are terms meaning the legal father of the child. The legal father is the man the law recognizes as the father of the child. The biological father is the man with whom a child's mother becomes pregnant. The legal father may or may not be the biological father. Genetic testing may be important to help determine who is the biological father of a child.

Two ways to establish paternity

Paternity must be established before an order for child support can be established. You can establish paternity for your child by:

  • • Signing a Recognition of Parentage form and filing it with the Office of Vital Records if both parents agree that the man is the biological father and want him to be the legal father of the child..
  • • Going through a legal action in court. Either or both parents ask the court to enter an order finding that the man is the legal father of the child..
  • Either of these actions establish paternity, which creates a legal relationship between the father and his child when the father is not married to the mother. Paternity can be established without a child support, custody or parenting time order.

    Parentage must be established before a father’s name can be placed on a child’s birth certificate.

    Custody and parenting time

    Paternity can be established without a child support, custody or parenting time order.

    A mother who was not married to the child’s father when the child was conceived or born has sole legal and physical custody of the child until a court orders otherwise. As a general rule, the child support agency does not get involved in custody or parenting time issues.

    More Information

    More information about establishing paternity includes:

  • • Advantages for fathers who sign the Recognition of Parentage
  • • Advantages for mothers who sign the Recognition of Parentage
  • • Disadvantages of signing the Recognition of Parentage
  • • Undoing a Recognition of Parentage
  • • Husband’s Non-Paternity Statement
  • • Undoing a Husband’s Non-Paternity Statement
  • • Genetic testing
  • • Naming your child
  • • Living arrangements for your child
  • • Parenting time
  • • Decisions about how your child is raised
  • • What to do if your child may be adopted
  • The brochure, Being a Legal Father: parentage information for mothers and fathers (DHS-3159a) outlines and answers questions about establishing paternity for unmarried parents.

    Please view the Power of Two video for information about your rights and responsibilities before signing the Recognition of Parentage form.


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