Massachusetts Father’s Rights & Paternity Lawyers
I often get calls from individuals, both men and women, looking for more information about Massachusetts Paternity Law so I thought it would be a good idea to detail a few key facts about paternity actions and offer a couple of recommendations as well.
What is a Paternity Suit?
In the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, the rights and responsibilities of unwed parents are outlined through a Paternity Order, rather than Custody and Visitation or Support Orders as with parents who were wed at the time their child was born. Paternity may also be established voluntary through the signing of an Acknowledgement of Parentage by both parents.
Paternity Orders or Acknowledgements of Parentage may be used to establish the identity of either a child’s father or his/her mother in the case where a surrogate was involved. Once a Paternity Order has been entered, or a voluntary acknowledgment has become final, it is incredibly difficult to vacate or rescind. This is because these orders and acknowledgements are entered by the court for the benefit of your child. Even where an individual can show they are not a child’s biological parent, an order may be kept in place because doing so is in the best interest of the child.
This being true, it is important to both parents and the child to have Genetic Marker Testing (also known as DNA or Paternity testing) done prior to voluntarily acknowledging paternity. Even if both parents are certain of the child’s paternity, having test results that show an individual is absolutely a child’s biological parent can avoid problems later.
Genetic Marker Testing is provided by the Department of Revenue for little or no cost (based on the parties’ needs.) You can fill out an application for services at their website, or file a motion in the Family and Probate Court for an order to have the testing done. Once this testing is done, both parents can voluntarily acknowledge paternity without any doubt, and feel secure in knowing they are making the right decision.
If you are currently considering voluntarily acknowledging paternity of a child, you should contact an attorney. Once you have acknowledged paternity, you have a wide variety of rights and responsibilities for the rest of your child’s life, it’s important that you understand them in full before you begin to navigate the process of obtaining an Order of Paternity.
What is Voluntary Acknowledgement of Paternity?
Your first opportunity to acknowledge your paternity takes place at the hospital when your child is born. At this point, both parents may sign a notarized “Acknowledgment of Parentage” form . If both parents sign this form (and neither rescinds their acknowledgement within 60 days), the acknowledgement has the same legal effect as an Order of Paternity. It is important to note that there is only a 60 day window for rescission. This is why it is so important that both parents be certain about the acknowledgement prior to signing.
If you voluntarily acknowledge your paternity and 60 days pass, establishing yourself as anything other than your child’s parent is incredibly difficult. There is only a one year window where the courts will allow a change to be made, and even then, they will only allow changes if a parent can show that the voluntary acknowledgment was the result of fraud, duress, or a material mistake of fact. For the record, foregoing Genetic Marker Testing because you were certain of the fact you were the father is not a material mistake of fact.
Once you have voluntary acknowledged paternity, you are that child’s parent, regardless of whether or not that is the biological truth. This comes with all the attendant rights and responsibilities and should not be taken lightly.
Rights and Responsibilities of a Parent
Being legally recognized as a child’s parent comes with a number of rights and responsibilities. Key to all of these is one idea: the best interest of your child. All children have the same rights when it comes to their parents, regardless of his or her parents’ marital status at the time he or she was born.
Being legally recognized as a child’s parent means that you can now seek visitation with and/or custody of your child. Until the court enters an order to the contrary, when parents are unwed, the mother has sole physical and legal custody of the child by default. While a court may be hesitant to change this arrangement (as stability is typically in the best interest of a child), establishing some sort of visitation order shouldn’t be too difficult. Having a meaningful relationship with both parents benefits a child, and if both parents can get along well enough to work out the best schedule for everybody involved, even better! Visitation orders can range from a simple statement that the parents will work out something that works to incredibly detailed documents covering a host of provisions, like what time and where visits will take place and who will transport the child.
Along with the right to spend time with your child, being legally recognized as a child’s parent comes with the responsibility of providing your child with financial support. If you do not have physical custody of your child, the court will enter an order of support outlining the amount of child support and how it will be paid (how often, whether it will be paid directly to the other party or through the Department of revenue, etc.).
What Situations Initiate a Paternity Action?
In Massachusetts, you’ll typically see a paternity case brought to obtain child support and/or custody and visitation rights. A paternity action is usually initiated in these two situations.
One, as part of a divorce or separation. In this situation, the father is typically pushing for a paternity hearing because he suspects the child is not his.
Or two, between two parents who were not married at the time of the birth, or are still not married. In Massachusetts you are responsible for the support of a child born out of wedlock – to age eighteen if the child does not attend college and to the age of twenty-three if they do.
As you can see from the two scenarios above, paternity action can be initiated by the father, or supposed father, as well as the mother.
The Importance of Proof of Paternity
Actual proof of paternity is done by DNA testing that is managed by the Massachusetts courts. The court has outsourced the DNA collection to a medical clinic – and all that needs to be done is a simple mouth swab.
And because DNA testing is so reliable, the results will almost always influence the courts decision.
That being said, here’s a couple of recommendations to think about before you initiate a paternity action.
For the mother – If the father, or supposed father, has agreed to child support, do not push for paternity testing. In Massachusetts, if he has already agreed to child support, he’s stuck paying it – regardless of paternity. You’ll probably still end-up in court but you’ll be in a much stronger position.
For the father – establishing paternity is always a good idea. And it should be done before you initiate any custody or visitation action. If you wait on establishing paternity, you’re likely to get stuck paying child support even if the child is not yours.
Put Infinity Law Group’s Paternity Lawyers on Your Site
If you are a parent with a paternity issue and are not sure what to do, or how to do it, call me at (617) 652-5748 to discuss your particular situation. Or if you prefer, you can email me: firstname.lastname@example.org.
I’ll spend a few minutes answering your questions – and you’ll know in short-order what you need to do.