Paternity Issues in Massachusetts

In Massachusetts, if a child is born out of wedlock, the child’s biological father is not deemed to be the child’s legal father, unless paternity is established. Establishing paternity is important for many reasons, and can be done in multiple ways.

The easiest way to establish paternity is when the child is born, the child’s biological father may sign a form known as an acknowledgement of paternity, in which he states and acknowledges that he is the father of the child. In this case, when the form is properly signed, the father’s name will then appear on the child’s birth certificate, and then the father is legally deemed to be the father of the child.

Another way to establish paternity is by a court order. Either the mother or the father may file a Complaint to Establish Paternity with the Probate and Family Court. Here, this is a formal legal case that is heard by a judge of the Probate and Family Court. Typically once a Complaint for Paternity is filed by either parent, then the court will order DNA testing for the child and putative father. If the DNA test comes back positive, then the putative father is adjudicated to be the legal father of the child.

It is important to note, however, that Massachusetts also has a law which states that if a child is born to a married woman, the woman’s husband is legally presumed to be the father of that child. Thus, if a married woman had an affair that resulted in a pregnancy, the woman’s husband would legally be considered the father of the child, even though biologically he is not the father. In such cases, there are legal mechanisms the parties can take to have the biological father adjudicated to be the legal father of the child as well.

Establishing paternity is very important for many reasons. First, by establishing paternity, a legal father may seek custody and visitation of the child. If paternity is not yet established, Massachusetts law automatically grants the mother sole legal and sole physical custody, which means only the mother has the legal right to make decisions about the child, and the father has no standing to object to any of these decisions.

There are also financial benefits to establishing paternity. Once paternity is established, the mother has the right to seek child support from the father. Additionally, a child then has the legal right to inherit from the father’s estate, be named as a beneficiary to any retirement or insurance the father has, as well as receive certain government benefits, such as Social Security dependency benefits, or veterans’ benefits.

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