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Acknowledgment of Paternity

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The Seth Rogen film, “Knocked Up,” is pretty hilarious but what’s often not funny is the fallout from an accidental pregnancy.

There are so many issues to consider if you’re a woman who gets pregnant from an ex-boyfriend, an acquaintance or an estranged partner, while for men, there are just as many issues if you’re the father, or perhaps if you’re not. On both sides, there are serious issues that can have a lifelong impact. 

In Massachusetts, there is a document that moms and dads are asked to sign at the hospital after delivery called a “voluntary acknowledgement of paternity.” One year after that document is signed, if it’s not challenged by another person claiming paternity, the person whose name is on it is the father, in the eyes of the law.

So if a woman finds out that the person on the document is not the biological father, it doesn’t matter once a year passes. The man whose name is on the document is the father and he is obligated to pay child support. That man is also entitled to visitation and custody rights, even if he’s not the biological father, under the law.

Conversely, if a man is found out to be the father of a child born out of wedlock, in Massachusetts, the courts can go back retroactively to the date of birth and order back child support. So a father could be on the hook for years of child support, even years later.

All of these surprises can be minimized and a strategy can be developed with the proper guidance from a good family law attorney, such as the ones we have here at Army & Roche. There’s always a good reason to consult an attorney around the birth of any child, especially before you sign any documents that have legal ramifications long into the future.

In the case of a child born out of wedlock, the rights of both mother and father are very different than they are with a married couple. If you find yourself in the situation where you’re not married and you’ve got an unexpected child on the way, it’s best to get the advice of a lawyer immediately so you don’t get locked into a lifelong deal you didn’t want.

The risks are, you could end up paying for a child that is not yours for years. On the other side, if you find out years later that a child is yours, you could miss out on years of that child’s life and still have to pay years of back support.

There’s no one-size-fits-all solution as every case is different. So be sure to consult an attorney and don’t leave anything to chance. Because what’s often funny in the movies is definitely not a laughing matter in real life.