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What is paternity and why is it important?

When it comes to child-related legal matters, the law often favors mothers. Unmarried mothers are assumed to have custody, and child support is often ordered to be paid to these custodial mothers. Fathers, on the other hand, typically have to be active in their pursuit to secure their legal rights. The first step in doing so is establishing paternity.

Generally speaking, establishing paternity is the process through which a man is declared as a child's father. Although most people think of DNA tests as being the main way that paternity is established, it is in fact only one of a number of ways in which paternity can be established. For example, a father is presumed to be a child's father if the child is born while the parents are married. Also, unmarried couples can choose to sign an acknowledgement of paternity or paternity affidavit. Even welcoming a child into one's home and holding him or her out to be one's own may be enough to establish paternity.

So what comes with establishing paternity? First, establishing paternity allows a father to seek visitation rights. Second, it can allow a father to seek custody of his child. Of course, when making these determinations a court will look to see what is in the child's best interests, but the establishment of paternity opens up the door to addressing these issues. Additionally, should a father obtain custody, he then has the right to seek child support from the noncustodial mother.

Paternity can be just as important to a mother who is seeking to obtain child support, and a child who wants to have a relationship with his or her father. Thus, regardless of which side of the paternity issue one sits, it may be wise to discuss the matter with a qualified family law professional who can help advise as to the best legal steps to take to further one's legal goals.

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