Marriage may be a big commitment, but it certainly also extends benefits to couples who make their relationship official. One of the most important perks of legal marriage is presumptive paternity.
When your wife has a child, the state presumes that you, as the spouse of the mother, are the father. Your name will be on the birth certificate for your child, and you don’t have to take any special steps in order to assert your paternal rights.
If you have a child with a woman who isn’t your wife, you still have rights as a biological father. It just requires a little more effort for you to assert those rights and play an active role in the life of your child.
You don’t necessarily need a court order for paternity testing
If the mother already listed you on the birth certificate or agrees to work with you, becoming an active father is straightforward. You also have options if she doesn’t want to work with or even acknowledge you.
In Massachusetts, you can theoretically ask the state for paternity testing without a court order. Provided that you are willing to make a statement to the courts if there is reason to believe you are the father based on the timing of your relationship and the age of the child, you can potentially ask for state genetic testing. You, the child and the mother will all have to undergo testing to validate the genetic paternity of the child.
Provided that the test does validate your claim of being the father, you can then ask to play a more significant role in the life of your child. This process isn’t available if there is another father on record.
Paternity is merely the first step toward involved parenthood
To have the legal right to request shared custody or even sole custody of your child, you must first establish paternity. Whether you do so through a voluntary acknowledgment performed with the mother of your child or through genetic testing, verified paternity allows you to then ask for shared custody rights.
Regardless of whether you and the mother of your child can set the terms yourself or you require the courts to decide how to split up your custody, knowing your rights and establishing yourself as a father are important steps toward becoming an involved dad.