Paternity legally declares the father of the child. In New York State, paternity can be established in three different ways:
- Marriage - If the mother is married when the child is born, the state assumes that her husband is the father. If he is not the father, he can choose whether or not to claim paternity;
- Acknowledgment - If the mother is not married, the father can sign an "Acknowledgment of Paternity." An Acknowledgment of Paternity legally establishes paternity. It is a voluntary form that both parents sign and which are usually signed at the hospital where the child is born, but they can be used to establish paternity until the child turns 21; or
- Petition - By filing a petition in Family Court seeking to declare that you are the child's father. A paternity petition can be filed by the child's mother, the man who thinks he is the father, the child, the child's legal guardian, or the Department of Social Services (DSS) (if the child or mother gets public assistance). This can be done at any point until the child turns 21. The petition can also be filed before the child is born. If the parents cannot agree who the father of the child is, the court will probably order DNA tests. The case will then be adjourned until a later date. In the interim, while the test is being completed and the results obtained, the father will not be entitled to any custodial access to the child. There is usually a fee for the test, which is paid for by both parents. If the tests show that the man is not the father the case will probably be dismissed. If the tests show that the man probably is the father, but the parties still do not agree, a hearing will be scheduled. At the court hearing, the judge will consider the DNA evidence as well as any other evidence either parent may provide. If the court determines that there is enough evidence, it will declare the man the father and issue an order of filiation.
Once paternity is established, the father will have child support obligations and will have the right to share custody and/or visitation with the child.