Barbara J. Katzenberg, Attorney at Law
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Child custody: Unmarried fathers may want to establish paternity

When a child is born to an unmarried mother in Massachusetts, the father's rights may depend on the strength of his relationship with the mother. A woman recently sought advice about the parental rights of her son, who purportedly impregnated his now former girlfriend. Their relationship ended, and the former girlfriend now claims her current boyfriend is the child's father. If paternity is proved, the first boyfriend may seek visitation, or in a case in which the mother is deemed unfit, he may petition for child custody.

A man who wants to prove a biological connection to a child may file a petition with the court to establish paternity through DNA testing. A court may order both parties to appear for DNA testing. Once paternity is established, he may petition the court for custody or visitation, but he will then also be responsible for paying child support.

It is advisable not to delay this process because the mother may have received support from the state, and if paternity is established, the father may have to repay those funds to the state. So, for instance, if this action is only taken when the child is two years old, he may have to refund two years of state assistance while also having to pay current child support. Such a burden may cause missed payments that could lead to jail time.

An unrecognized father in Massachusetts may benefit from a consultation with an attorney who is experienced in all matters related to child custody, visitation and child support. Understanding their legal rights from the onset might assist fathers in making informed decisions that will ultimately be in the best interests of their children. A lawyer's support and guidance through the legal proceedings may ensure a long-lasting parent-child relationship.

Source:, "Establish Paternity Promptly", Thomas McCutcheon Name, Sept. 29, 2015

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