Did you know that fatherhood is not automatically established in the state of Pennsylvania when a child is born? Unlike maternity, which is obviously easy to establish, paternity rights are not instantly bestowed upon the father upon the birth of the child. This is an important legal principal to keep in mind when it comes to child support, child custody and other family law issues.

How is paternity established? If a woman is legally married to a man, then her spouse is presumed to be the legal parent of the child. Two other methods exist for establishing paternity: First, a court order can identify the legal father, or paternity can be established by filling out a form that is signed by both parents.

How can that form help? The Acknowledgement of Paternity form must be signed by both parents to establish paternity. This document can be completed at the hospital when the baby is born, or it can be filed after the mother and child go home. The form requires both the signed consent of the mother and the father’s signature in order to be considered valid. Once the form is officially filed, it can only be challenged with a select few legal strategies; in other words, the form is very difficult to change after it has been signed. This is why it is important for both parties to be sure about who the father is before signing this binding document.

Why does paternity matter when it comes to child support? In order to seek child support, the state must have access to proof of the child’s paternity. State agencies will then coordinate meetings to determine child support amounts and frequency through a standardized process. The good news: Fathers who keep up with their child support payments are often more involved and invested in their child’s upbringing than those who avoid making the payments. Establishing paternity is the first step in providing a better quality of life for your family.

Source: Pennsylvania Child Support Program, “Pennsylvania Child Support Handbook,” accessed Oct. 13, 2015