Paternity: An Overview


Paternity is the term used to describe a man who is legally determined to be the father of a child, and with this establishment comes certain rights and responsibilities. Paternity is often a crucial aspect of custody and child support cases, as it determines whether or not a man has legal rights to a child and if a child has legal rights to financial support from the man. There are three different ways in which paternity is established:

  1. If the parents are or were married, the state presumes that the husband is the father of any children born during the time of the marriage.
  2. If the parents were not married at the time of the birth, they can establish paternity by legally filing an acknowledgement of paternity.
  3. The court can order paternity to be established based on DNA results, if proper testing methods determine that the man is indeed the child’s biological father.


Establishing legal paternity can be a very important aspect in a child’s life, both emotionally and legally, as it gives them a number of rights under the law. The child will gain access to certain financial benefits, including inheritance, such death benefits as Veterans’ or social security benefits, and the right to receive child support from their father. The child is also eligible to receive medical insurance or life insurance through the father’s insurance plans, and has legal access to the man’s medical history and any potential genetic medical issues. For many children, it is also important to have a legal record of the identities of both of their parents, and they can be confident that the man listed on their birth certificate is their biological father.

The parents can also benefit from having paternity legal established, and there are many reasons why a mother or father would seek to legally determine paternity.

Mother’s Benefits

  • Parental responsibility becomes shared
  • The right to financial assistance through child support payments
  • Improved financial security for the family
  • The right to information about the child’s family medical history
  • Health insurance for the child under the father’s medical plan

Father’s Benefits

  • Legal establishment of his rights as a father
  • His name will be included on the child’s birth certificate
  • The right to pursue custody and visitation orders from the court
  • The right to be informed and involved in adoption proceedings for the child


If an unmarried couple seeks to establish the paternity of their child, the father can sign and submit a voluntary form called an Acknowledgment of Paternity. Available from local birth registrars, district child support offices, and hospitals, this form allows the man to legally acknowledge that he is the child’s father, and he has until the child is eighteen years old to file.

If the child’s paternity is disputed, either parent can file a petition requesting the court to legally determine the child’s biological father. At this stage of the proceedings, the court generally orders DNA testing based on samples from the child, mother, and contested father. There are a few different methods used to test the child’s DNA:

  • Prenatal Testing: DNA testing can be done before the child is born through amniocentesis or chorionic villus sampling. This method is often discouraged, as it increases the mother’s risk of miscarriage and is potentially damaging to the developing child.
  • Blood Testing: Immediately after the child is born a sample of blood can be taken from the umbilical cord for analysis. This method poses no risk to the mother or child, and is very effective. A blood sample can also be drawn from the child at any time and then analyzed by a laboratory. Only a very small amount of blood is taken, and the drawing is usually easily tolerated by both infants and children.
  • Hair Testing: Hair samples can be used for DNA testing, but the root follicle must be intact for a successful analysis. In order to preserve the follicle, the sample must be pulled directly out of the scalp, which can be very painful for some children.
  • Buccal Swab Testing: The least invasive method, this test uses a specialized applicator to swab the inside of the cheek, which collects epithelial cells painlessly. The cells are then analyzed for DNA by a trained lab technician.

After the results are received by the court, either party has the option to contest the results and request a hearing or consent to an order of paternity. If the case is heard by the court, the paternity must be established or refuted through clear evidence that convinces the judge. The court will consider all evidence presented during the hearing and then issue an order of paternity or dismiss the petition. It is important to note, however, that if the probability that the DNA results are accurate is 95% or higher, the court will presume that the man is the father and establish legal paternity.


These proceedings are often complex and can have widespread legal implications. Before beginning the process, it is imperative that you are aware of and fully understand your rights and options. An attorney from our firm can assist you in filing or responding to any necessary forms or court documents, and we can represent your interests before the family judge. If your case goes to hearing, we can provide you with powerful advocacy and present detailed and compelling evidence on your behalf. Paternity is an issue that will change your life forever, and it is crucial that you have smart and experienced legal counsel to guide you at every step.

The Law Offices of Andrew J. Spinnell, LLC has proudly served the people of New York City with effective and caring divorce and family law services since 1983. Our knowledgeable and dedicated team can fight for you during this complicated and emotional time and help you understand the many aspects of your case. We can address your concerns and answer any questions you may have, and help you determine the benefits of establishing paternity in your situation. The outcome of your case will have serious impact upon your life and the lives of your former partner and the child, so you cannot wait to enlist seasoned representation for your case. Call a New York City family lawyer from our offices today to discuss your legal options!