By John C. Meehling   |   June 18th, 2011

establish_paternity.jpgThe concept of “paternity” refers to the process of going to court to establish a legal relationship between a father and his child.  The process exists because society has created laws to make sure that children are supported by their own biological parents whenever possible.  A paternity action will help determine who should be paying for that support and how much they should be paying.  In Ohio, a paternity action will only apply to a mother and father who were never married  because any child born during a marriage is presumed to be the husband’s legal child.  Paternity actions between unmarried people are typically heard in a county’s juvenile court.

Who can file for paternity?

In Ohio, the only people who can bring an action to establish paternity are the mother of a child, the alleged father of that child, the child (or a representative of the child), or the Child Support Enforcement Agency in the county where the child resides (if the mother, alleged father or guardian of the child is receiving public assistance on behalf of the child).  A grandparent or other relative cannot file a paternity suit.

Why should someone establish paternity?

Paternity helps to protect both a child and his/her parents.  Being named the legal father allows him to file for custody or visitation.  Establishing parentage also provides the mother with the ability to receive child support for the child.  Determining parentage can also help the child because once parentage is established, a father will often become more involved in a child’s life than he was before parentage was established.  Finally, establishing parentage is also important for health insurance coverage, for inheritance reasons, and for social security or veteran’s benefits.

My child’s mother and I both agree that I am the father.  What do we need to do?

To voluntarily acknowledge paternity, the parties need to complete the “Acknowledgement of Paternity Affidavit”.  This is the simplest way to establish paternity.  That form can be completed at the hospital when your child is born and before both parents leave the hospital.  It can also be completed at your county’s CSEA office or at your local Vital Statistics Registrar.  Once the form is completed and filed, paternity is established and cannot be rescinded.

How does genetic testing work?

Genetic testing, or DNA testing, is used to determine the probability that some alleged father is, indeed, the father of child.  Typically, samples of saliva are taken from the child, mother, and the alleged father.  The CSEA uses genetic testing results when seeking an Administrative Paternity Order (APO).  If the results from the test show that the probability of paternity is equal to or greater than 99 percent, the request for an APO will be granted.  If the probability of paternity is less than 99 percent, then the case will be referred to juvenile court to allow for the examination of additional evidence of paternity.

I was never married to my child’s mother, but I would like visitation.  I’ve never established paternity, so what should I do?

Establish paternity.  This can be done by bringing an action in the juvenile court, or in probate court in some circumstances.  One can also request an Administrative Determination from the CSEA.  Finally, the parties can voluntarily acknowledge paternity by filing the appropriate affidavit with a court, as described above.

How do I establish paternity for my baby if a party is not willing to be tested?

If you want to have a paternity test administered and the other party is not willing to be tested, contact the Child Support Enforcement Agency.  Once you request that a paternity test be administered, the agency will order that both parties submit to testing at the department’s lab.  Both the mother and father, as well as the child, will be tested as stated above.  The lab at the CSEA will conduct the test to determine paternity and will send the results to the court and to both parties.  If either party refuses to submit to the DNA test, that refusal will be referred to Court and may result in a contempt of court charge.

Establishing paternity is usually only the first of many issues in a custody/visitation or support proceeding.  Other issues may include the child’s surname, birthing expenses, health insurance coverage and the allocation of the dependency tax exemption.  It is important that if you are involved with these issues that you seek an experienced lawyer to advise you about your rights.

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About The Author: John C. Meehling
Attorney John C. Meehling is a Family Law Attorney from Dayton, Ohio, and contributor to the Ohio Family Law Blog. Attorney Meehling recently joined the Dayton law firm of Holzfaster, Cecil, McKnight & Mues on November. 1, 2010.

Establishing Paternity in Ohio – An Overview
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