A petition for paternity is a request for a family law court to try to identify a child's biological father. This may be filed by the mother to establish child support guidelines, or may be filed by the father to gain visitation rights or custody. In some regions, it may also be filed by child services agencies. The process for filing a petition for paternity may differ from region to region based on jurisdiction.
Filing a petition for paternity usually involves filling out a standard form requesting court proceedings. The form may change from region to region, but typically requires some personal information. The petitioner should try to have the current address and identification number, such as Social Security number, of all involved parties. Other questions may include why the petitioner is filing the claim, if there has been any action to previously establish paternity, such as through a notarized claim or by paying child support, and information about the birth of the child. While these forms can be filled out by a legal representative, most regions also allow petitioners to fill out the form on their own.
There may be a fee to file a petition for paternity in some regions. This fee is typically due at the time of filing. In some cases, the fee may be waived if proof of low or no income is available. If a person is working with a pro bono or low-cost lawyer through a legal assistance program, the fees may be furnished.
The petition for paternity is usually filed at the local courthouse in the region that has jurisdiction over the case. Ideally, this should be the area where both the petitioner and respondent have residency, but generally can simply be the area where the petitioner lives. Papers generally must be filed in person at the the courthouse.
If a petition for paternity is accepted by the court, a summons will be sent to the respondent informing him or her of the date, time, and nature of the trial. Usually, this is at least 30 days from the time of filing, to allow both sides to prepare any legal documents or evidence to bring to court. Many legal experts recommend hiring a lawyer to help with preparation and even representation in court. If a respondent chooses to ignore the summons, the presiding judge may make a default judgment on the case without hearing any evidence from the respondent.
The court may examine all evidence surrounding the case, and ask questions of all involved parties. It is not uncommon to require DNA testing to clearly establish paternity. If a DNA test returns a 99% positive result for paternity, this will generally satisfy the court. If paternity is established, the proved father will usually have rights and responsibilities regarding his biological child. This may mean that he has a case for visitation or custody, but can also mean that he must pay child support, including possible back payments for time past.