Paternity must be established before custody, visitation or child support petitions can be heard by the court. Paternity refers to the state's recognition of fatherhood. It is established in a few ways:
1. If the mother of a child is married at the time of the child's birth, her husband is the child's legal father. This is based upon a legal presumption that he is the father. This presumption, though, can be rebutted in a paternity proceeding.
2. If the mother is unmarried when her child is born, the alleged biological father is not yet the child's legal father. In order to be established as the legal father in this case, both parents could sign an Acknowledgement of Paternity form.
3. In the absence of marriage or a signed Acknowledgement of Paternity form, paternity can be established by the Family Court. Either the mother or alleged father may file a petition in Family Court seeking an Order of Filiation. This typically involves administration of Genetic Marker Test (DNA test) by a court-authorized laboratory. Under the Family Court Act, a test result indicating a ninety-five percent probability of paternity establishes a rebuttable presumption of paternity. Most tests exclude or establish paternity by 99.9% probability. If the court issues an Order of Filiation, the father would now be entitled to all the rights, and have all of the responsibilities, shared between a father and a child.
4. Paternity on the basis of res judicata or equitable estoppel.