A paternity action is a legal proceeding that allows unmarried parents to resolve issues about child custody and visitation similar to those dealt with in a divorce proceeding. Establishing paternity means establishing the identity of the child’s father. A father can acknowledge paternity by signing a written admission or voluntary acknowledgment of paternity. All States have programs under which birthing hospitals give unmarried parents of a newborn the oppor-tunity to acknowledge the father’s paternity of the child. States must also help parents acknowledge paternity up to the child’s eighteenth birthday through vital records offices or other entities designated by the State. Parents are not required to apply for child support enforcement services when acknowledging paternity.
Paternity cases do not have to involve a dispute between the parties about who the father is. Sometimes the parties will stipulate that they are the parents of the child. If however, parentage is an issue in the case, then it must be handled prior to addressing other matters such as support and visitation. Paternity establishment can provide basic emotional, social, and economic ties between a father and his child. Once paternity is established, a child gains legal rights and privileges. Among these may be rights to inheritance, rights to the father’s medical and life insurance benefits, and to social security and possibly veterans’ benefits. The child also has a chance to develop a relationship with the father and to develop both a sense of identity and connection. It may be important for the health of the child for doctors to have knowledge of the father’s medical history.