Definition of paternity
From Latin paternitās (“paternity”), from paternus (“of or pertaining to a father, paternal”) + -itās, from pater (“father”).
paternity (plural paternities)
- fatherhood, being a father
- parental descent from the father's side
In law, paternity is the legal acknowledgment of the parental relationship between a man and a child usually based on several factors.
At common law, a child born to the wife during a marriage is the husband's child under the "presumption of legitimacy", and the husband is assigned complete rights, duties and obligations as to the child. The presumption, however, can be rebutted by evidence to the contrary, at least prior to a formal court ruling involving the putative paternity (often this is a decree of divorce, annulment, or legal separation). Jurisdictions differ widely on when a judgment establishing paternity or a support obligation based on the presumption can be set aside on the grounds that the husband was not in fact the father.
In the case of an unwed mother, a man may come forward and accept the paternity of the child, the mother may petition the court for a determination, or paternity can be determined by estoppel over time.
Where paternity of the child is in question, a party may ask the court to determine paternity of one or several possible fathers (called putative fathers) based initially upon sworn statements and then upon testimony or other evidence.
A successful application to the court results in an order assigning paternity to a specific man, possibly including support responsibility and/or visitation rights.
Once a father has established paternity and, if he wishes to be part of the child's upbringing, he can effectively establish his parental rights with his child by filing a parenting plan. In the United States, law requires parents to file a parenting plan with a district court which outlines how the biological parents will share parental responsibilities on matters such as legal custody, physical custody (parenting time or visitation), and medical insurance.
Some paternity laws assign full parental responsibility to fathers even in cases of women lying about contraception, using deceit (such as oral sex followed by self artificial insemination (State of Louisiana v. Frisard) or statutory rape by a woman (Hermesmann v. Seyer).
If the context of inheritance rights, it will be the heirs of the deceased person who are attempting to dispute or establish paternity. In some states, DNA testing will be dispositive to establish paternity. In most states, however, there are a variety of rules and time restrictions that can deny inheritance rights to biological children of a deceased father.
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