Paternity in a legal context refers to the legal acknowledgment of the biological condition of parents.  When children in Massachusetts are born out of wedlock, determinations of paternity can become complicated.  Paternity actions can be filed by either parent or by alleged father.

Presumption of Paternity
Massachusetts law contains several situations in which a man is presumed to be the father of a child.  For instance, if a child is born to a married woman during the marriage or within 300 following the divorce or death of the husband, the woman’s husband or ex-husband is presumed to be the father unless a specific paperwork is signed by the mother stating otherwise.  Where the man is listed on the child’s birth certificate, such presumption also arises, as well as in situations where the man acknowledged paternity and the mother failed to object to this acknowledgment of paternity within a reasonable amount of time, and in some situations involving children who were born before April 13, 1994.

Effect of Paternity Determinations
Individuals presumed or adjudicated to be parents of a child born out of wedlock are responsible for supporting such child until the earliest of the following: (1) eighteen if the child does not attend college, (2) twenty-one, if the child continues to depend on one of the parents; or (3) twenty-three if the child does attend college.

How Paternity is Determined
There are several methods by which paternity can be established by two parents who are in agreement.  The most conventional method for establishing paternity occurs when the biological parents of a child get married, which automatically establishes paternity.  Another method to establish paternity for couples who decide not to get married is to complete a Voluntary Acknowledgment of Paternity in the hospital at the time of the child’s birth.  Couples can complete a Voluntary Acknowledgment of Paternity at any time after the child’s birth, as well.  When parties disagree about paternity, issues can become significantly more complicated.  In these situations, parents have the option of filing a Complaint to Establish Paternity with the Probate and Family Court in addition to a Motion for Genetic Marker Testing (so-called DNA test).  Because of accuracy of DNA tests, in these cases, the court’s determination of paternity will almost absolutely match the result of a Genetic Marker Testing.

Responsibilities of Parents
Parents should understand that, once paternity is established, this determination will establish responsibilities, including the duty to pay child support, make contributions towards the child’s health care and educational expenses.  Statutory law in Massachusetts definitively states that each parents is responsible for financial support of his or her child from birth; at the same time, absence of custodial rights or alienation of one parent by another is not a defense to the responsibility for child support (See Mass. Gen. Laws c. 209C, §9).

When Paternity Actions Arise
In Massachusetts, paternity actions most often arise when either parent seeks to obtain child support or custody and visitation rights for a child born out of wedlock.  For children born out of wedlock, without a court order stating otherwise, both legal and physical custody remains with the birth mother, thus leaving the other parent without any established custodial rights.

Resources for Paternity

Massachusetts Laws About Paternity

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