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Paternity refers to the process of establishing who is legally recognized as a child's father. This typically arises in the context of a child who is born to a woman who is not married, since there is a presumption in the case of a child born during a marriage that the mother's husband is the father.

The traditional way of establishing the person who will be legally recognized as a child's father is through the commencement of a paternity action. A paternity action identifies the child in question, as well as the child's mother and all persons who are alleged to be possible fathers of the child. A person alleged to be the father has a wide array of legal rights available in defending against the petition, including but by no means limited to the right to request that DNA tests be performed to create relevant scientific evidence as to the probability of paternity.

Ultimately, paternity can be established only by the father's voluntary admission, or after a trial at which fatherhood is proven. Once this occurs, a person determined to be father will need to address a multitude of issues involving both the proper scope of his legal responsibilities, as well as the appropriate provisions to guarantee his legal rights.

Allowing a paternity case to be resolved without taking the right steps to protect a new father's legal rights can have long-lasting, negative effects.