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Establishing Paternity

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Establishing paternity gives a child born outside of marriage the same legal rights as a child born to married parents. Children with legal fathers are entitled to benefits through their fathers that may include Social Security benefits, veteran's benefits and inheritance rights. Children may also benefit by knowing their biological family's cultural and medical history. Either parent may take action to legally establish paternity. The process may begin at any time, until the child attains the age of majority. In Alabama, the age of majority is 19.

When a married couple has a child, the law automatically recognizes the husband as the father. When an unmarried woman has a child, an official act is needed to establish the legal father of the child. This is called establishing paternity. Sometimes a parent may want proof that the man is the biological father of the child. In that case, a genetic test will be used to show that either the man is not the biological father (he is excluded), or, that there is an extremely high probability that the man is the father of the child. The results of a genetic test are then used by the court as evidence of parentage. A court order will then be issued establishing paternity.

The State of Alabama will use these three possible types of processes to establish paternity:

Uncontested consent process:

This process requires both the mother and the alleged father to agree that the alleged father is the biological father of the minor child. The parties can do this by completing an Affidavit of Paternity either through the in-hospital process before leaving the birthing hospital or at a later time.

Affidavit of Paternity

This affidavit, if properly signed and notarized, creates a legal finding of paternity under Alabama law. It is a legally sufficient basis for establishing an obligation for child support and birth expenses. This form can be completed anytime after the child's birth and before the child's nineteenth birthday. This form can be obtained at any county DHR office.

In-Hospital Paternity

All birthing hospitals must allow unmarried mothers and alleged fathers the opportunity to sign an affidavit of paternity at the time of their child's birth.

Administrative process:

This process gives the Department of Human Resources the authority to administratively order genetic testing. In most cases, this eliminates the need to involve the court in genetic testing. However, the court must issue an order establishing paternity and support.

Contested judicial process:

The contested judicial process is used when the alleged father refuses to acknowledge paternity or when the alleged father and/or mother refuse to cooperate with administrative genetic testing.
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