Paternity 19 Kids and the Law Paternity is the legal term for fatherhood. Children born outside of marriage are entitled to the same rights and protections as children whose parents are married to each other. All males that become fathers (even if they are not yet 18) are legally responsible for their children. Paternity can be established by a court order or by a voluntary acknowledgment signed by the mother and father. If there is an agreement regarding the custody, visitation, or support of the child, both parents must sign the agreement for it to be valid. Prior to any court order or voluntary acknowledgment of paternity, the mother has sole custody of the child. What is a paternity action? A paternity action is a petition brought in court to determine whether the man named in the petition is the father of the child. Who can bring a paternity action? A paternity action can be brought by any of the following: • The mother of the child. • The man who states he is the father of the child. • The child. • The child’s guardian. • The Department of Children and Families, if the child is in its custody. • The Department of Revenue, if the child has received any kind of public assistance. • A representative of any of the above. Paternity 2 2