Unmarried mothers in Massachusetts are presumed to be the legal and physical custodian of a child without going to court. Unmarried fathers in Massachusetts are not provided with any legal or physical custody rights without going to court, unless they are added to the Birth Certificate at the time of the child's birth. This is despite the fact that a child support obligation can begin to accrue upon the birth of the child even if the father is unaware of their existence or not involved in the child's life.
The Birth Certificate is completed with information provided by the mother of the baby. If she is unmarried, then she can request the father's name be included. In order to include the father's name he must sign a Voluntary Acknowledgment of Paternity and then his name will appear on the birth certificate.
Signing a Voluntary Acknowledgement has significant legal ramifications. Even if a father is not the biological father, signing the Voluntary Acknowledgement could make him the legal father, with potential rights and obligations for the child's entire childhood until emancipation.
If a mother or father refuses to sign the Voluntary Acknowledgement of Paternity, then paternity can only be established by court action and the mother alone will appear on the birth certificate until there is an order of the court which will be addressed in our next post.
Of course, whether established in court or voluntarily, legal parentage of a child is only step 1. Once the court or two parents have recognized the legal rights and obligations of the father, the parents need to define how they will co-parent and support the child. Click here for more information on those next steps.
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