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Paternity Cases and Child Support

Produced by Massachusetts Law Reform Institute
Reviewed July 2023

Children have the right to child support even if their parents are not married to each other.

In a paternity case, the court can order the father or the mother to pay child support if:

If both parents sign the Voluntary Acknowledgment of Parentage form but you need to go to court to get a child support order, file a Complaint for Support-Custody-Visitation and the signed Acknowledgment.

If the father does not sign the Voluntary Acknowledgment of Parentage form and you need a child support order, file a Complaint to Establish Paternity and check off the box next to “order a suitable amount of support for the child” in paragraph 6.

How does the court decide on child support in a paternity case?

The court can only order child support if the judge decides the father named in the case is the biological father.

The court decides on child support after it decides on paternity. Usually, the judge who decides the paternity of your child also makes a child support order at the same hearing.

The judge decides the amount of child support the “noncustodial” parent should pay. The noncustodial parent is the one who does not live with the child.


The court can also order the noncustodial parent to pay for other things like health insurance, medical and dental expenses that add up to more than $250 in a year, education and some travel expenses.

How do the courts decide how much child support to order?

The courts use the Child Support Guidelines to figure out the amount of child support:

Read more about how judges make child support orders.

What if I need child support right away?

Paternity cases can take a long time. Sometimes you need child support right away, before the judge makes a final decision on the Complaint to Establish Paternity or the Complaint for Support-Custody-Visitation.

You can file a Motion for a Temporary Child Support Order to ask the judge for a temporary child support order while the case is going on.  See What if I need a court order now?

If the parents do not agree that the father named in the paternity complaint is the real father of the child, the judge can wait to decide about child support. The judge can wait until the paternity test results are ready.

If the paternity tests say that the probability of paternity is 97% or higher, the court can make a temporary child support order. 

The temporary order lasts until the judge makes a final decision in the paternity case, or until they make a different order.

Read how to make a Motion for Child Support.

For the law, see Massachusetts General Laws, Chapter 209C, section 9.

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