What is Paternity?

Paternity of a child refers to the status of a father in relation to a child born outside of a marriage. A paternity action is the process of establishing a relationship to a child born outside of marriage usually for the purpose of support. Court proceedings for paternity can be brought by the father, mother or a personal representative of the child or mother, including state and local departments of social services. Paternity actions may be brought in in civil or criminal proceedings.

Paternity is usually established so that a mother can bring a lawsuit against an alleged father for child support, or so that a father can begin exercising custody and visitation privileges. In the event that paternity is determined by the court, a lawsuit for support can be brought at any time before the child turns 18.

What is legitimation?

Legitimation gives a father of a child born outside of marriage all the lawful parental privileges and rights, as well as all of the obligations which parents owe to a child born to married parents, and to entitle such child by succession, inheritance or distribution to receive distributions from the estate of the parent who legitimates them. It also allows the parent who legitimates a child to inherit from that child. The process is also referred to as legitimization and is a civil proceeding in the courts.

The rights and privileges that the child and father become entitled to once a legitimation is finalized include inheritance and succession rights. It also includes rights to bring suit for wrongful death of one another. Inheritance and succession rights are critical in the event a death occurs without a will and the estate has to be distributed as provided by the law of the state where a person resided when he or she dies.

A proceeding for legitimation can only be filed by a father during the father’s lifetime. Actions for legitimation can be brought even after the child has reached the age of 18. In the event that the parents of a child marry at any time after the child is born, the child is automatically declared legitimate without the necessity of filing a court action. Once a legitimation is completed, paternity is no longer an issue since the father acknowledged paternity of the child.

Once a legitimation is finalized, a new birth certificate for the child will be issued by vital records with the father listed. If the mother consents, a legitimation can also allow for the surname of the child to be changed on the birth certificate.

Paternity and legitimation seem similar but are separate actions, with each achieving different objectives. Establishing paternity does not automatically legitimize a child. In contrast, by legitimizing a child, paternity is no longer an issue.

Paternity and legitimation can be emotional and complex proceedings with long lasting implications. If you are considering seeking paternity or a legitimation of a child, or if you are faced with defending against either of these actions, it is recommended that you seek the advice of an experienced attorney to advocate for your rights. Our attorneys have the skills required to represent you in a paternity and/or legitimation proceeding.

At Stroud and Panetti, P.C., we have over 30 years in experience in representing and protecting our client’s interests in the Winston-Salem area. No matter how big or small your matter is, we will ensure that your interests are represented. If you are seeking paternity or a legitimation of a child, or if you are a parent faced with defending an action by a potential father, we can help. Call us today for a consultation with our family law attorneys at 336-724-2600.