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Determining paternity

In Pennsylvania, a father without custody may still have responsibilities to provide child support for medical expenses and everyday expenses and assist with other legal obligations. Paternity also gives the father certain legal rights.

Under current law, a child who is born to a married woman is presumed to be the child of her husband. The parents have to be legally married because common law marriage is no longer recognized in this state.

If a child is born to an unmarried mother, the father has no legal relationship with the child with two exceptions. First, both parents sign a legal document acknowledging paternity. Or a court may issue an order identifying the child's father.

Either parent can rescind their voluntary acknowledgment of paternity within 60 days after it was entered or before any court proceedings. After 60 days, paternity acknowledgment may be successfully challenged in court if there is sufficient evidence of fraud, duress or a material mistake.

A court may order genetic testing if the presumed father does not acknowledge paternity. It may still find that he is the child's father if he does not submit to this testing.

The mother, the presumed father and the child have to submit to this DNA testing. It is a fast and painless process. If paternity is established, the father is responsible for testing costs that will be added as a fee to any order of child support.

Fathers may also claim paternity and seek parental rights. He can ask for a legal proceeding and DNA testing.

Once paternity is established, fathers can seek parental legal rights. These include custody, visitation, notification of adoption proceedings and having his name placed on the child's birth certificate.

Children may be entitled to child support from their father. They may also be entitled to other benefits such as knowing the identity of their legal parents and their relatives, access to important medical information from their parents, the right to inheritance after their father dies and access to their father's military benefits. Children may be able to receive medical benefits from their father's health care plans or their Social Security disability and death benefits.

Paternity may be only one aspect of a child custody dispute. A lawyer can help parents protect their rights and assure their children's well-being.

Source: Pennsylvania Department of Human Services, "Pennsylvania child support handbook," Accessed Aug. 14, 2016

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