This article explains the process of legally establishing "paternity," or the identity of a child's father. It may be especially important to establish paternity in cases where it's not automatically established at birth, such as when a child is born out of wedlock or when the mother is married and her husband is not the child’s father. The process can be done voluntarily, by the child’s parents, or by filing a paternity case in court.
If you are trying to establish paternity in Mississippi and have questions about your case, you should contact an experienced family law attorney in your area.
If the child’s mother is married at time the child is conceived, or anytime between conception and the birth of the child, the husband’s name is put on the child’s birth certificate as the father.
A child will also be considered “legitimate” if the natural parents get married before the birth of child, or if a judge makes a ruling about paternity before the father’s death (or even after his death under certain circumstances).
Both parents can also voluntarily sign an acknowledgement of paternity form. The father’s name will then be put on birth certificate, and the child may be given the father’s last name. The acknowledgement can be signed while the mother and baby are still in the hospital. The form is available at the hospital when the child is born, or afterwards through the Mississippi Department of Human Services. This voluntary acknowledgement can be rescinded by the father within one year of signing or by a court order.
A mother, father or child can ask the court to determine paternity by filing a paternity action in court. Usually, this happens when a father refuses to voluntarily sign an acknowledgement, or a mother and father do not agree on paternity.
The Mississippi Department of Human Services can also file a case on behalf of the child. A paternity case can not be decided by the court until the child is born. Often genetic testing is ordered for mother, father and child to determine the identity of the father.
A paternity case will be filed with the court in the county where alleged father lives or has property, the county where mother lives, or the county where child lives.
Establishing paternity gives children who are born out of wedlock the same rights to financial support and other benefits given to children born of a marriage. After paternity is confirmed by affidavit or court order, the father’s name is placed on the child’s birth certificate, so there is no longer any question about the identity of the child's biological father.
In addition, establishing paternity ensures that either parent can seek child support and other benefits (on behalf of the child) from the other. A confirmed father may be required to pay part or all of the expenses related to the mother’s pregnancy, whether the child is born during marriage or not. A court can also require a confirmed father to add his child to any existing health insurance policies or purchase a health insurance policy for his child.
When the father dies, paternity ensures that the child can inherit from the father and his family. The child will also be able to receive Social Security and Veteran’s benefits on his or her father's record, if eligible.
If a father doesn’t take steps to acknowledge his paternity, he could lose all rights to custody or visitation with his child. He may even lose the right to receive notice of court proceedings regarding his child, including proceedings regarding his child's placement and care. If a father has any desire to see his child after birth and make custodial decisions regarding his child, he should take all steps necessary to establish his paternity as soon as he learns of the pregnancy.