Paternity Determination Under PA Law

Establishing paternity under the law is the determination of a child’s “legal” father. The legal definition of fatherhood differs in each state, and it’s not always the same as the biological definition.

If both parents are married when the child is born, the husband is assumed to be the legal and biological father. For unmarried couples, there’s usually no assumed legal relationship between the child and the biological father. The legal relationship establishes if the father signs the birth certificate when the child is born.

In conjunction with the child’s mother, he’ll sign a voluntary acknowledgment of paternity (VAP) form at the hospital. This process is a voluntary determination of paternity. It doesn’t require court summons or genetic testing.

Why Establish Paternity?

Besides having the father’s name on the birth certificate, there are reasons why it is essential to determine paternity. Some reasons include:

  • To claim inheritance
  • Child support
  • Custody and visitation rights
  • To gain knowledge of family-related health issues
  • Entitlement of health insurance through the father’s employer
  • To avoid legal problems with obtaining social security benefits or other government benefits if the father dies or is disabled.

Why Paternity Lawsuits Arise

Paternity lawsuit is an involuntary determination of paternity. It involves one or more parties, contesting for a child’s paternity.

For Married Couples

The most common reason a lawsuit may arise is if there’s proof of the mother’s infidelity. The husband might deny being the child’s father against the wife’s insistence. Or the wife’s supposed lover might file a petition for paternity against the couple’s wishes.

For Unmarried Couples

There are also two common scenarios where two people may file a petition against each other. In one instance, the child’s mother may seek to establish that a particular man is the child’s father, against his wishes.

In another instance, a man may claim to be the child’s father, while the mother says otherwise. He may sign the voluntary acknowledgment form, but it’s not valid if she doesn’t sign it.

Determining Paternity in Court

In Pennsylvania, you can establish paternity either voluntarily or involuntarily, before a child gets to 18 years. Whoever seeks to establish paternity will file a “petition to determine paternity” in court. Family law West Chester PA, also allows a mother to file a “complaint for child support.”

The court may order a DNA or genetic testing on the child and supposed father. If the test results determine him as the biological father, the court will recognize him as the legal father. He can then list his name on the child’s birth certificate. He’ll also be liable to pay child support, and he can choose to file for joint or sole custody.

Challenging Voluntary Acknowledgment of Paternity

A man who voluntarily signs a child’s birth certificate acknowledges that he’s the child’s father. He may not be able to deny paternity later. The exception is if he can prove fraud, material mistake, or coercion. This kind lawsuit may be complex, and he’ll require the help of an expert in family law in West Chester, PA.

The judge will decide if he’ll order genetic testing or not, as it’s not an automatic right for the plaintiff. The judge will then disestablish paternity before ordering a DNA test. However, It’s advisable to be sure that a child is yours, before establishing paternity voluntarily. The presumption of paternity is challenging to defeat in court.


The determination of paternity is vital for both the child and the father. If you have questions regarding paternity determination, you should contact a professional in family law in West Chester, PA.