When parents want the court to make orders regarding child custody, visitation and support but the parents are not married, then a paternity action must often be initiated by the court. In a paternity or parentage case, the court will make orders on the parentage of the minor children. The court will also follow similar guidelines used in a divorce or dissolution in regards to custody, visitation, and support.
Paternity can be established either by a court order or the completion of a Declaration of Paternity listing the legal parents of the child. While the mother of a child often obtains legal rights over the minor child upon birth, for the biological father legal rights are not automatic. If the child is born outside of marriage, and thus the parentage must be established via court order. Until a formal paternity order has been entered by the court, the biological father will not have any legal rights over the child. If either party does not voluntarily claim to be the parent of the minor child, the other parent can ask a court to order the alleged parent to submit to genetic testing, i.e. a “paternity test.” A paternity test is only ordered in the absence of a voluntary declaration by either parent.
Once paternity is established, the father or mother of a child will be able to request custody and visitation orders from the court. Either parent may also be responsible for paying child support and other costs associated with the care of the child.