Establishing paternity in Louisiana when a child is born out of wedlock

Whenever a child is born, there are so many tasks that need to get done right away. Between things like shopping for clothes and diapers, making sure the car seat is installed correctly and trying to get enough sleep, it is natural for some items on the to-do list to inadvertently fall by the wayside.

However, if the child's parents were not married, there is one important task that cannot wait. The parents must establish legal paternity. Without it, the father will have no right to custody of the child and the mother will have no right to child support payments from the father.

How to establish paternity

Under Louisiana law, when a child is born to an unmarried woman, the mother is the only legally-recognized parent. This is true even if the mother and father are living together or are otherwise in a committed relationship. (However, when a child is born within 300 days of a divorce, the mother's ex-husband is presumed to be the child's legal father.)

Unmarried parents may establish paternity in one of two ways. The first is to complete a form called an Acknowledgement of Paternity Affidavit. By signing this form, both parents agree that the man is the biological father of the child. Once the form has been processed, the father will be added to the child's birth certificate.

Acknowledgement of Paternity Affidavits are usually available at the hospital when the child is born. However, if the parents are not ready or able to declare paternity at that time, an affidavit may be filed with the Louisiana Vital Records registry at a later date.

If there is a dispute as to the paternity of the child, the second option is to pursue a paternity suit in court. Often, these lawsuits arise when a mother wishes to obtain child support payments from the child's father or when a father wants to seek custody or visitation with his child. Paternity lawsuits can also be helpful for securing the child's eligibility for government benefits (Social Security, veterans' benefits, etc.) based on the father's status. Paternity lawsuits may involve DNA evidence as well as witness testimony regarding the relationship between the mother and the alleged father.

Challenging presumptions of paternity

It is also possible to use paternity lawsuits to challenge established or presumed paternity. For example, a lawsuit might be brought by a man who signed an Acknowledgment of Paternity Affidavit but later discovered evidence indicating that another man is the child's biological father. Or, perhaps a man who fathered a child with a married woman wishes to establish that he - and not the woman's husband - is the biological father of the child.

Getting help from an attorney

Establishing paternity of a child is a serious legal matter. If you are attempting to establish paternity and are being met with resistance from the other party, your best option is to seek out experienced legal help. Schedule a consolation with a Louisiana family law attorney who can help you protect your rights.