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What is paternity and why is it important?

When most people think of the major family law issues, think that they begin when divorce occurs. Yet, as many are aware, this is not always the case. Some family law issues, especially child custody and child support, can arise without a marriage even ever existing. However, in these instances, those who want to protect their legal rights may need to take a few extra steps.

One of the most important steps is to establish paternity. Simply put, the process of establishing paternity is the process through which a child's father is determined. While many of us conjure images of DNA test results indicating whether someone is the father of a child, the truth of the matter is that paternity can be established in many other, much simpler, ways.

When a child is born to a couple while they are married, then the husband is presumed to be the child's father. If a man and woman sign an acknowledgement of paternity or a paternity affidavit, then that man will legally be deemed the father. A man may even be presumed to be a child's father if he accepts the child into his home and holds the child out as his own.

Why is paternity important, though? For men, parenting rights to a child can only be secured once paternity is established. Once a man is legally deemed a child's father, than he can seek visitation and child custody. Therefore, in order to obtain and protect a relationship with his child, a man needs to establish paternity. Although women may want to establish paternity so that a child can know who his or her father is, the issue can also be financial in nature. By establishing paternity, a noncustodial father can be ordered to pay child support. Therefore, regardless of which side a party falls on, paternity can be a crucial factor.

Of course, like many family law issues, paternity and the child custody, visitation and child support matters that can accompany it can be fraught with legal complications. By entering into this arena without knowledge of the law and what must be done to protect one's rights, an individual runs the risk of being subjected to unwanted outcomes. Therefore, it may be wise for those facing these issues to discuss them with a qualified family law attorney of their choosing.

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