If you and your child's other parent are not married, you may have questions about paternity and how to make sure it's established properly. This article provides the basics of establishing paternity in Vermont. If you have specific questions after reading this article, you should contact an experienced family law attorney for help.
Paternity (meaning legal fatherhood) is automatically established if a child's parents are married to each other when the child is born. The husband is the legal father and his name will be on the child’s birth certificate.
In Vermont, if the parents of a child are not married to each other when the child is born, the child has no legal father until paternity is established. Once paternity is established, the father’s name will be placed on the child’s birth certificate and the father will gain certain rights to the child.
In Vermont, paternity can be established either “voluntarily” by signing a Voluntary Acknowledgment of Parentage form or “involuntarily” through a court or administrative order.
When the mother and father agree that the father is in fact the biological father, paternity can be established voluntarily. This requires both the father and mother to sign what’s called a “Voluntary Acknowledgment of Parentage.” This is often done at the hospital when the child is born. The form can also be obtained later from the Office of Child Support and the courts. One form must be signed by both the mother and the father and witnessed by two adults that are not related to the mother and father. If the mother or father is younger than 18 years old, a parent or guardian must also sign the form.
The form must then be filed with, or sent to, the Vermont Department of Health’s Office of Vital Records. Once the Declaration is properly filed with Vital Records, the father is the legal father of the child and his name will be added to the child’s birth certificate. However, if the form is submitted more than six months after the child’s birth, a Probate Court decree is required to amend the birth certificate.
Involuntary establishment of paternity is done through a court proceeding where the court issues an “order of parentage.” This method is called “involuntary” because someone disputes paternity, which is why it becomes a court issue.
The mother, the father, the child, or the state if the child is receiving public assistance, can begin the court process by filing an “Action to Establish Parentage” in the Family Division of the Superior Court in the county where the child lives.
If after receiving appropriate notice of the court proceeding, the father doesn’t appear in court, the judge can enter a “default order” in his absence, declaring him the legal father. If the father appears in court and the mother and father both agree that the father is the biological father, a written agreement (or stipulation) establishing parentage is prepared for the judge’s signature.
If either the mother or the father denies or is uncertain of paternity, they can request the court to order genetic or DNA testing. Today, a DNA test requires that the child, mother, and father have the inside of their cheeks swabbed. The DNA samples are then sent to a laboratory for analysis, which can establish with 99.9% certainty whether the father is the biological father.
After DNA testing, if the court determines that the father is in fact the biological father, the court will issue an order of parentage, making the father the legal father and his name will be added to the child’s birth certificate. Within the court proceeding to determine paternity, the court can also issue orders of custody, visitation, and child support.
If you need help establishing parentage, the Vermont Office of Child Support offers assistance, including assistance filing a court action, arranging for genetic testing, and establishing orders of child support.
Establishing paternity means more than just having a father named on the child’s birth certificate. There are benefits for the child, the mother, and the father when paternity is established.
Establishing paternity helps children:
Establishing paternity helps mothers to:
Establishing paternity helps fathers to:
For the full text of the statutes regarding establishment of paternity, see Vt. Stat. Ann. tit. 15 § § 301 to 308.
The website of the Vermont Department for Children and Families provides information about voluntarily establishing paternity as well as the court process to establish paternity.