Written by attorney Michael A Troy

How to Establish Parentage for Your Child in the District of Columbia

In the District of Columbia, when a child is born to unmarried parents or parents who are not in a domestic partnership, there is no automatic legal relationship between the father and the child. The biological father's name will not be placed on the birth certificate without filling out an Acknowledgement of Paternity (AOP). This is called parentage establishment and establishes the biological father as the legal father.

If the parents are married or in a registered domestic partnership when the child is born, there is an automatic legal relationship between the mother's spouse or the domestic partner, and the child. The spouse's or domestic partner's name will be placed on the birth certificate. The mother's spouse or domestic partner is presumed to be the child's parent by virtue of the legal union.

How to Establish Parentage

1. Voluntary Acknowledgment of Paternity (AOP):

A mother and father can voluntarily sign an AOP form. This process is available to parents if the mother was not married or in a registered domestic partnership at the time of birth, conception or anytime in between. If both parents complete the AOP form, they don't have to go to court to establish parentage.

  • Both parents must swear the information on the AOP form is true
  • The father must provide photo identification
  • No blood test is required
  • Signing an AOP is easy and free
  • Both parents must sign the AOP
  • AOP forms are available in Hospitals, Birthing Centers or the Department of Health and Vital Records, and Child Support Services Division (CSSD)
  • Each facility can help you complete the form

2. Filing a Petition in D.C. Superior Court:

  • Filing a Petition - If the person you suspect to be your child's parent disputes that he or she is the child's parent, you can establish parentage through the court system by filing a petition. This petition will name the individual you suspect is your child's legal parent and request a child support order.
  • Court Hearing - The DC Superior Court will hold a hearing, which the mother and potential parent must attend. At this hearing, the potential parent has a chance to admit if he or she is the child's legal parent.
  • Genetic Testing - If the man named as the child's father is not sure if he is the father, or denies that he is, the court may order a genetic test. If the test proves he is the child's father, the court will issue an order that establishes the child's paternity. This order is legal proof establishing your child's parentage.

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