Unmarried couples must take the proper steps to establish paternity for their children. Unlike married couples, where paternity is automatically established by the birth of the baby, babies born out of wedlock will not have paternity determined unless certain steps are taken. The National Conference of State Legislatures explains the two most common ways that paternity is established.

When fathers wish to establish voluntarily, they can often do so within the hospital as soon as their child is born. This entails being informed of the rights and responsibilities of being a parent, along with being provided the proper forms to legally acknowledge their child. There are also alternatives to in-hospital parental acknowledgment, including registering with the child support office or a local health clinic. The aim is to make it as easy as possible for parents to establish paternity on behalf of a child.

If paternity is disputed, the court will step in to make a decision. It is crucial that a child has equal access to both parents when being raised. Along with providing essential financial support to ensure the child’s material needs are met, it is also in the best interest of a child’s mental and emotional health to have a loving relationship with both parents. That is why courts often use genetic testing to decide the issue.

While genetic testing is considered very reliable, a possible father is allowed to contest the results of his test. This involves undergoing a second test, for which the costs may be transferred to the man. If the second test is also positive, it is presumed that the man is indeed the father of the child. A test can also be administered whether the man objects or not, as it is court-ordered.