Paternity in D.C.

Learn how you can establish paternity and why it's beneficial for your child in D.C.

Whether you're a single mom trying to get child support or a single dad trying to spend time with your child, it can be difficult to impossible to get anywhere without court orders. When a child's father is not married to the child's mother at the time of the child's birth, establishing paternity is the first step to getting child support or custody orders.

This article provides an overview of paternity law in the District of Columbia. If you still have questions after reading this article, you should contact a local family law attorney for advice.

Establishing Paternity

Paternity is the status of being a father. There are two ways to establish paternity. The first method is through a "Voluntary Acknowledgement of Paternity" (VAP) form. In D.C., when the child's mother and father agree who the child's legal father is, they can sign the VAP form to show that they acknowledge the alleged father is the child's legal father.

The acknowledgement must be signed before a notary public. Signing this form creates a presumption of paternity, which is admissible as evidence of paternity and is recognized as a basis for seeking child support. Either parent may revoke his or her acknowledgment within 60 days of signing. After that, the acknowledgement is considered final.

When a child's parents don't agree who the child's father is, paternity can only be established by a court or a state agency.

In the District of Columbia, any of the following persons or agencies may initiate the process to establish paternity:

  • the child's mother
  • the man who believes he is the father or who has been identified as the father (also known as the "putative father"), or
  • the District of Columbia Child Support Services Division of the DC Attorney General's Office.

The D.C. Child Support Services Division can order the parties to submit to genetic testing and issue a ruling as to the identity of the father. However, the agency's authority only goes to establishing a support order. For other orders such as custody or visitation, the parties will need to go to court.

Click here for more information on Child Custody in D.C.

What May Happen in Court

Once the case is brought to court, a judge will order the putative father and the child to undergo genetic testing. To be valid, the tests must show that the putative father is the bio dad by a 99% probability. Either parent can be ordered to pay for the testing and/or for the other parent's attorney's fees.

If the District of Columbia is a party to the case, the court will order the District to pay the costs of the genetic testing if neither parent can afford to do so.

Once paternity is established, the judge will issue orders as to who the child will live with, called "physical custody," and when the child will see the other parent, referred to as "visitation." The D.C. Family Court, a division of the Superior Court, can also order child support and medical insurance coverage for the child.

The parents will be ordered to either share legal custody or one parent will have sole legal custody. "Legal custody" means having the right to make major decisions regarding the child's welfare, such as the child's health, education, and religious upbringing. It also means that one or both parents will have the right to obtain records regarding the child's education, medical care, psychological treatment and the like.

The Pros of Establishing Paternity

Once paternity is established, both the mother and father are responsible for a child's financial support. For a single mother, getting some financial support from her child's father will obviously provide a great benefit. A shared physical custody schedule may also provide some respite for the mother as well.

The child has a right to know his or her father, as well as have a father-child relationship. The child should be aware of his genetic history from both parents. By having a court order on paternity, the child may be entitled to rights of inheritance from the father's estate or public benefits if the father is disabled or a veteran.

For a father who may want to be part of his child's life, the court can order a set visitation schedule as well as joint legal custody.


The District of Columbia Child Support Services Office has info on the service it provides. Go to . Click on the "Paying Support" tab which will direct you to the "Establishing Paternity" link.

The district's judicial branch website has fill-in forms to start a parternity case in court. Go to Click on the "Public" tab. Go to the "Family Matters" section for the forms and directions.

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