Paternity is short for a Complaint to Establish Paternity, which is the type of action in Massachusetts that we use to obtain a Court order defining who the Father of a child is and what rights and obligations the Father and Mother have with respect to the child. Depending on the facts of your case you might be required to file a Complaint for Support, Custody and Visitation instead of a Complaint to Establish Paternity. Both of these types of Complaints will be referred to as Paternity Complaints below.
If you are a parent of a child born out of wedlock, it is important that you understand your rights in a Paternity case in Massachusetts.
What is the difference between a Complaint to Establish Paternity and a Complaint for Support, Custody and Visitation?
A Complaint to Establish Paternity is filed when the Father has not yet been adjudicated to be the Father of the child in question. This means that the Court has not yet recognized that the alleged Father is actually the legal Father of the child yet. Either parent can file a Complaint to Establish Paternity. Once the Father has been adjudicated to be the Father, either through a DNA test or by agreement of the parties, then the Court may make decisions regarding appropriate child support, child support arrears, and custody and visitation plans.
If the Father has already signed a Voluntary Acknowledgment of Paternity or otherwise been adjudicated by a Court to be the legal Father of the child, then there is no need to establish Paternity. Therefore the Court can move right to the issues of support, custody and visitation.
How do I know if the Father signed a Voluntary Acknowledge of Paternity?
Usually if the Father has signed a Voluntary Acknowledgment then his name will appear on the birth certificate. You are required to file the birth certificate with the Court whether you are filing a Complaint to Establish Paternity or a Complaint for Support, Custody and Visitation.
What if I have multiple children out of wedlock?
If you have multiple children out of wedlock, even if they are all with the same Father, you must file a separate Paternity Complaint for each child. If you have multiple children with the same Father, you can request that the Court consolidate the cases so that they can all be heard at the same time.
What is a Pre-Trial Conference?
Approximately six (6) months after the filing of a Paternity Complaint the Court will schedule a Pre-Trial Conference. If the Court does not automatically schedule this conference, then either party can request that a Pre-Trial conference be scheduled by filing a written request with the Court. The goal of a Pre-Trial Conference is to help the parties narrow the issues in their case prior to the scheduling of a trial and if possibly settle the case.
Upon the scheduling of the Pre-Trial Conference, the Court requires that the parties hold an in person Settlement Conference at least one week prior to the Conference, and that if the parties are unable to reach an agreement at the Settlement Conference, then both parties shall file a Pre-Trial Memorandum informing the Court of what issues they agree upon, and what issues they disagree upon. The judge then provides feedback to the parties which they can hopefully use to settle formerly disputed issues.
What happens at a Trial?
At a trial of your case, both parties will have the opportunity to present evidence and testimony to the Judge. Because the Judge is limited to hearing only the evidence that is admissible under the Rules of evidence, there may be facts about your case that the Judge is not able to hear about. At the conclusion of hearing admissible evidence, your attorney will submit proposed Findings of Fact and a proposed Judgment to the Judge, which will include all of the decisions that you want the Judge to make based on the evidence presented.
After reviewing both parties' proposals and the evidence, the Court will issue a Judgment and it will become effective immediately.