Why would I want to file a paternity case?

Produced by an AmeriCorps Project of Western Massachusetts Legal Services updated and revised Massachusetts Law Reform Institute
Last Updated August 2015

Once you "establish paternity," you can:

  • ask for dependent or survivor benefits for your child from the Veterans Administration or the Social Security Administration (if the father gets benefits from one of these agencies
  • get the father's medical history;
  • get inheritance for your child if the father dies; and/or
  • ask for a court order of custodyparenting time or visitation, to be clear about when and how the father can have contact with or visit your child.

Is there any reason I might not want to file a paternity case?

Filing a paternity case makes it easier for the father to ask for custodyparenting time, and visitation.  Filing a court case can make it easier for an abusive father to find you or use the court case to harass you. It might make you less safe.

  1. If you are not married to the father of your child, he does not have any custody, parenting time, or visitation rights unless there is a court decision . Even if the father has signed the Voluntary Acknowledgment of Parentage, he needs to go to court to get custody, parenting time, or visitation rights.
    If you file a paternity case and the court decides that he is the legal father, then he can ask for custodyparenting time or visitation. He can ask for custody, parenting time, or visitation even if you do not file a paternity case. But first he must file his own paternity case to prove he is the father. He might not ever file a paternity case himself. If you file the paternity case, you make it easier for him to ask for custody, parenting time, or visitation.
  2. Filing a court case against the father could let him know where you live. If you need to file a paternity case, but you need to keep your address secret from him so that you can stay safe, you can ask the court to “impound” your address. 
  3. It is important to remember that if there is an ongoing case about child support, custody, parenting time or visitation, the father might find out where you live unless the court orders your address be impounded (kept secret).

You may want to talk to a lawyer to help you decide whether or not to file a paternity case. Call your local legal services office to see if you can get free legal help. You may be able to get a free or sliding scale appointment with a private lawyer

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