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How do I establish paternity so I may collect child support?

A married man in Massachusetts is assumed to be the father of a child born to his wife. Assumed fatherhood even carries beyond marriage, including babies born within 300 days of a married couple's divorce. No extra steps are required to prove paternity.

Unmarried Boston fathers don't have it quite that easy. At the very least, an unmarried father must step forward and sign a Voluntary Acknowledgment of Parentage, usually shortly after a baby's birth, before paternity is established. This creates a legal bond, but does not address issues like child custody, child support or visitations.

Voluntary Acknowledgment may occur with or without a prior court-ordered DNA test. The Child Support Enforcement Division, part of the state revenue department, offers low-cost and no-cost DNA testing, so parents are clear about the child's biological ties. The painless tests are conducted using cheek-swab samples from the child and parents.

The test is 97 percent accurate in showing a man is the biological father of a child. The results can be used to support a Voluntary Acknowledgment or be forwarded to a court to establish legal fatherhood. Without establishing paternity, an unmarried man has no parental rights.

Even after paternity is established, the court must determine what role the unmarried father has in a child's life. Legal fatherhood allows an unmarried dad to pursue child custody and visitation privileges. Established paternity also opens the door for an unmarried mother to seek child support.

Attorneys advise that none of these added issues – child support, custody and visitations – can be resolved until the paternity is established. A child benefits when a paternity action is taken: a known identity, rights to inherit and parental financial support.

Unmarried mothers may ask a court to order the biological father to submit to DNA testing. The results provide a basis for parental rights and responsibilities and the best interests of a child.

Source: Massachusetts Department of Revenue Child Support Enforcement Division, "Two Parents" accessed Feb. 20, 2015

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