In the State of Hawaii, when a married couple has a baby, the issue of paternity doesn't come up very often. That's because in Hawaii, married people who have a child together are both automatically deemed to be the biological and legal parents of that baby.
But things are very different for unmarried couples who have a baby. When it comes to unmarried people, there's a divide between being a biological parent and a legal parent. When unmarried people have a baby, they have to actively engage in the legal process to make sure that the baby's biological father becomes the legal father as well. This process is known as "paternity establishment." If unmarried couples don't follow through on paternity establishment, neither they nor their child will enjoy the full spectrum of legal rights and financial and emotional benefits.
Hawaii law provides unmarried couples with three basic ways to establish paternity of their children.
First, as long as the mother is unmarried and hasn't been divorced or widowed more than 300 days before the baby is born, the parents can sign a Voluntary Establishment of Paternity form. This is typically done in the hospital, after the baby's birth. Both parents should read the form together and make sure they understand it. Then they should both sign it in the presence of a hospital staff member. The hospital will take a copy of the form and make sure it's filed with the Hawaii Department of Health. The Health Department then transfers information to the Child Support Enforcement Agency (CSEA). The CSEA is very interested in paternity cases because it needs to make sure that children are financially supported by their biological and legal parents.
If you didn't sign the form in the hospital but you still want to, you can get the form from the District Health Office on the island where you live and complete the process later. You'll need to make an appointment at the District Health Office and both parents will need to go together to sign the document.
It's important to know that the Voluntary Establishment of Paternity imposes new financial responsibilities upon the legal father. For example, the father may have to pay child support if he doesn't live with the child.
The second way that paternity can be established is that the mother, father, or a government official (typically from the CSEA, which will help you establish paternity at no cost if you apply for CSEA services) can file a paternity action with the court. The plaintiff (the party filing the paternity case) must serve and file a Complaint for Paternity. If the CSEA is the plaintiff, it will generally name both the mother and the father as defendants. The matter would then be placed in the hands of a judge to decide and would result in an involuntary determination by the court (meaning, a court order, judgment, or "decree") that the putative, or alleged, father is actually the child's biological and legal father. The judge may, but doesn't have to, order genetic testing to ensure that the child and parents share DNA.
The third and final way that unmarried Hawaii couples can establish paternity of their child is to marry after the child is born.
There are a number of reasons why parents should establish paternity of their child:
Children also enjoy a wide variety of benefits when paternity is established:
The CSEA has prepared a brochure with basic facts about Voluntary Establishment of Paternity. They also maintain web pages dedicated to the topic of paternity and Hawaii law.