The simple answer is yes; the paternity of a child must be established to request child support. Beyond child support, establishing a legal father for the child also provides other potential benefits for the child, including entitlement to Social Security, death, insurance, and military benefits—as well as access to medical information from the father's side of the family. The child may also be able to develop a stronger sense of identity through their paternal lineage.
Note that for a child born within wedlock, even if the couple was separated at the time of the child's conception or birth, the mother's husband is considered the legal father, and his name is entered on the child's birth certificate.
How to Establish Paternity in North Carolina
There are two main ways to establish the paternity of a child born to an unmarried couple. The first is a voluntary acknowledgment by the father, which can be done as soon as the child is born and even still in the hospital. The putative father must present identification and request that his name be placed on the Affidavit of Parentage. This document is then filed with the State Registrar of Vital Records, and both parents' names appear on the child's birth certificate.
The second way to establish paternity is through a court order. The mother of a child born outside of a marriage can file a petition against the alleged father to initiate paternity proceedings so long as it is before the child's 18th birthday. The court will hold a hearing and decide whether to enter the order establishing paternity, which must be shown by “clear, cogent, and convincing evidence.”
One of the best ways to meet this standard is through genetic testing. A paternity DNA test is commonly conducted by taking tissue swabbed from the inside of the cheek. So long as there is at least a 97% probability of a genetic match between the putative father and child, the evidentiary standard will be met. Note that a genetic marker or blood test is required if the paternity action is brought more than three years after the child's birth or after the putative father's death.
Contact an Experienced North Carolina Family Law Attorney
If you have questions about establishing paternity, the Jerkins Law Firm can help. Call us today at (919) 719-2785 or contact us online.