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What North Carolina mothers should know about paternity

From shopping for must-have items and scheduling regular trips to the doctor's office to picking a name and preparing the nursery, the days, weeks and months preceding the birth of a child are often nothing less than hectic. Yet no matter how exhausting this can be, these efforts will pay dividends in the long run, as expecting mothers will be able to truly focus once the big day finally arrives.

One issue that might understandably get overlooked during these extensive preparations -- or even after the birth occurs -- is paternity. While this is not an issue if the couple is married, as the law will automatically consider the husband to be the child's father, things have the potential to become more complicated if they are not.

In these situations, it will be necessary to establish paternity. It's important to understand, however, that the motivation for this isn't paternalistic, but rather to help the child.

The benefits of establishing paternity

From a purely legal perspective, establishing paternity will do the following:

  • Establish the mother's right to pursue child support
  • Ensure a child's access to paternal medical information and their inheritance rights
  • Enable a child to secure Social Security, military benefits and insurance via their father

It's also important not to overlook the emotional benefits of establishing paternity, as it can provide a child with a greater sense of identity and facilitate the formation of a relationship with their father.

All of this naturally begs the question as to how paternity can be established.

Establishing paternity voluntarily

The process of establishing paternity voluntarily is fairly straightforward, as both of the unwed parents can simply sign an Affidavit of Parentage while in the hospital or at a later point in time. This legal document, which is filed with North Carolina Vital Records, ensures that the father's name will be listed on the birth certificate and that all of the aforementioned benefits of paternity are extended to the child.

It should be noted that if either parent has second thoughts, they have 60 days from the date of signing the Affidavit of Parentage to file a motion with the local clerk of court asking for it to be rescinded. While parents can still change their mind after the closing of this 60-day window, the process becomes decidedly more difficult.

Establishing paternity involuntarily

In the event paternity is contested or otherwise unknown, it will likely prove necessary to resolve the matter in the courts. If this is the route taken, a formal complaint will be served on the putative father(s) and a formal court hearing held.

At this hearing, the court will consider the results of a highly accurate DNA test designed to assess the probability that a particular individual is the father of a child. As for the test itself, it consists of nothing more than a cheek swab of the putative father(s), mother and child.

In the event the DNA test points to a certain individual, the court will most likely enter an order establishing paternity, which again ensures that the father's name will be listed on the birth certificate and the child's access to all of the abovementioned benefits.

Here's hoping the forgoing discussion shed some light on the sometimes unclear issue of establishing paternity here in North Carolina. In the likely event you still have questions or concerns, remember that you can always consider speaking with an experienced legal professional.

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