Paternity means fatherhood. Establishing paternity is the legal process of determining the biological father of a child. When parents are married, in most cases, paternity is established without legal action. If parents are unmarried, paternity needs to be established. Paternity can be established by a court order or through the Paternity Opportunity Program (POP). The process should be started by both parents as soon as possible for the benefit of the children.
Until paternity is established, the father does not have the legal rights or responsibilities of a parent. Establishing paternity is necessary before custody, visitation and child support may be ordered by the court. (Note: custody and visitation issues are handled separately from child support.) A permanent child support order cannot be established for a child until either the alleged father admits paternity or it is proven that he is the father. If the man does not admit that he is the father, the court may order the mother, child and alleged father to take genetic (DNA) tests.