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Guide to Paternity Cases in Massachusetts – Boston Paternity Lawyer

Paternity Issues in Massachusetts – Establishing Paternity, Custody and Child Support

Paternity cases are filed by either the mother or father of a child born out of wedlock.  Typically, a father will bring the paternity case in order to establish that he is the legal father of a particular child so that he may request the court grant him custody and/or visitation (i.e. parenting time) with the child.  Sometimes, a father will bring the paternity case in order to establish that he is not the legal father and a DNA test will be procured.

Usually, a mother will bring the paternity case to establish that a man is the father of the child so that the mother can obtain custody orders as well as child support.

In Massachusetts, there is a presumption that a mother of a child that is unwed at the time of conception/birth is the legal custodial parent of that child.  Until and unless the father brings a paternity or custody action against the mother, the father does not technically have a right to custody of the child.  Of course, parents can always agree as to parenting time for the child.

Here is a Complaint to Establish Paternity form:

Contested and Uncontested Cases

When a parent desires to establish a father’s parental relationship with a child, and he is not married to the mother, either parent may file an action to establish that relationship.  Such a case is called a parentage action and it is filed in the Probate and Family Court.  A Boston parentage action is a unique case in family law and the issues that may arise in these matters will probably include:

  • Establishing child support orders
  • Participation in a DNA test to determine parentage
  • Setting child custody and visitation orders in the Probate and Family courts
  • Providing for payment of certain costs relating to rearing the child
  • Recognition of foreign paternity findings
  • Registering and modifying orders from other states
  • Ordering attorney fees and costs.

The most common questions our Boston paternity case clients ask us are found in the Frequently Asked Questions below.

Where are paternity cases filed?

In Boston, New Bedford, Hingham and elsewhere in the Commonwealth, paternity cases are filed in the county where one or both parents reside in Massachusetts, or where the child is found.  The case is filed in the Probate and Family Court in the proper county, and within each county there are particular courts where the case must be filed.  For example, in Bristol County, cases to establish parental relationships and for child support are all filed in Taunton.

Here is a list of where paternity actions are filed, with links to the courthouses:

Bristol County: Taunton

Essex County: Salem

Norfolk County: Canton

Plymouth County: Plymouth

Suffolk County: Boston

Barnstable County: Barnstable

If you hire an attorney to assist you in your case, your attorney will handle filing the case for you.  You won’t have to worry about getting to the court to file a case.

Does the father have to be on the birth certificate in order to file a case?

No.  Once the case is filed, either the mother or the father can request a paternity test to confirm parentage, but the father does not have to be listed on the birth certificate in order to file a case.  The parties can also each waive their right to have a paternity test done and admit parentage (i.e. the mother admits that the man is in fact the child’s father, and the man admits that he is the father).

How are Paternity DNA tests done?

When the court orders that a father participate in a DNA paternity test, through technology the procedure has become a lot less invasive.  There are labs across the country that conduct these tests, and they simple require an oral swab from the father and child.  The father and child do not need to be present for the test at the same time.  If you obtain an order for DNA testing, you should request that the order be specific in directing both parties to a certain testing lab by a certain date to ensure compliance.

How is child support calculated?

Child support is calculated based on a “guideline” formula.  Generally, the parenting time for each parent is taken into consideration as well as each party’s income.  All income is included for purposes of child support, including wages, overtime, vacation pay, self-employment income, investment income, rental income, and so forth.  For a detailed discussion about how child support works in paternity, divorce or even separate support cases, click here.

If parents are not married, can a parent file for child custody orders?

Yes.  Either the mother or father can file for child custody orders in a paternity case.  The court will enter custody orders granting either “joint” custody or custody to one parent with visitation to the other parent.  In rare cases, the court will not allow a parent any custody rights.  In all custody cases, parents must attend a parenting course.

We have prepared a very detailed guide with everything you need to know about child custody.  To access our complete child custody guide, click here.

What happens in a paternity case in Massachusetts?

When the parent of a child (either the mother or alleged father) wishes to start a paternity case, a Complaint is filed which opens the court file.  A judge is assigned to the case, and the documents are then “served” on the other party.

The defendant in the case has 20 days to file an answer.  If an answer is not filed, it might be possible for the court to enter whatever orders the plaintiff wishes.

After the case is filed and the defendant is served, the court will set a “status conference”, usually several months from the date of filing.  At that hearing, the court will simply set a “Pre-Trial Conference”.  If the parties settle their case, they can bring a signed agreement to the judge to sign at any time.  If the parties cannot agree, a trial will be set and the judge will enter orders resolving the entire case at that trial.

Typically, it takes about a year to get to a trial.

While the case is pending, either party can bring a motion for parenting time, child support, payment of healthcare expenses including insurance, and so forth.

If you are a parent of one or more children and you are not married to other parent, and either party wishes to establish orders for parentage, child custody, visitation, or support, it is imperative you contact an expert lawyer in the field of parentage and family law immediately.  Our Boston paternity attorneys are available to speak with you today regarding the issues involved in your parentage case, and we provide a free, initial private consultation to discuss your options with you.  Feel free to call us or email us today. We are conveniently located in downtown Boston, as well as New Bedford and Hingham, MA.

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