Filing a Paternity Case

Produced by an AmeriCorps Project of Western Massachusetts Legal Services updated and revised Massachusetts Law Reform Institute
Reviewed October 2009

How do I file a paternity case?

The steps for filing a case are:

1. Go to your local Probate and Family Court and fill out these forms:

  1. Complaint to Establish Paternity.
  2. Affidavit Disclosing Care and Custody Proceedings. This is a form that tells the court if there are other court cases about your child;
  3. Affidavit of Indigency. Fill out this form if you do not have enough money to pay the cost of serving the papers. The form asks the state to pay the costs. Write on the form that you need the state to pay the cost of serving the papers.
  4. Motion for Temporary Orders. Fill out this form if you need the court to order something as soon as possible, like child support or custody or visitation. When you file your motion, you need to schedule a date for the court to hear it. Ask the clerk which days the judge hears motions. You need to pick a date for your motion to be heard and fill in that date on the motion form.

The filing fee for a Complaint to Establish Paternity is $115.00 (including a $15.00 surcharge).  If you receive public assistance or if your income is very low, you may be eligible to have the filing fees waived and to have the state pay the cost of serving the papers. In order to do that, you fill out a form called an Affidavit of Indigency and have it approved by the appropriate court personnel, usually an assistant register of probate.

2. Make 3 copies of all the forms. The clerk at the court might be willing to make the copies for you. If not, she can tell you where a copy machine is:

1) the first set of copies is for you;

2) the second set of copies is for the father;

3) the third set of copies is for the Department of Revenue (DOR). You must give copies to DOR if your child gets public assistance like TAFDC (welfare), or your child used to get it.

3. File the originals of all the forms by giving them to the clerk at the Probate and Family Court.

  1. If the clerk approves your Affidavit of Indigency, ask her for a stamped copy.
  2. Also ask for a Domestic Relations Summons.

4. Take or mail one set of copies and the Summons to a deputy sheriff to serve on the father. Also give the sheriff a copy of your approved Affidavit of Indigency. Tell the sheriff that the state will pay the cost of serving the papers. The sheriff will serve the papers and write the date and time of service on the Summons. She will then mail the Summons back to you.

5. If your child gets public assistance like TAFDC (welfare), or your child used to get public assistance, give a copy of the papers to the Department of Revenue–Child Support Enforcement office at the court.

6. File the original Summons at the court by giving it to the clerk at the Probate and Family Court. This will prove that the sheriff served the papers.

What do I do after I file the case?

After you file and serve the papers:

1. Fill out a Financial Statement and bring it to court when you have a hearing about child support.

2. Fill out a Request for a Financial Statement form. This form asks the father for his Financial Statement.

a. File the original Request for a Financial Statement form with the court.

b. Send a copy to the father with a blank Financial Statement form. He has to file his Financial Statement with the court and send you a copy. Now you will know what he claims to earn, what he owns, and what expenses he has.

3. If you filed a motion for temporary orders, get ready for the hearing. If you are asking for child support, gather any documents you have about your income and expenses, and anything you know about the father's income and expenses. If you or the father asked the court to decide custody or visitation, find any documents or witnesses that will help you make your case. Read more about Child Support, Custody and Visitation.

4. On the day of the hearing on your motion:

a. Check in with the clerk's office to tell them that you are there for a hearing;

b. Check in with the Probation Department. They will try to help you and the father work out an agreement.

c. If you are afraid of the father, tell the Probation Officer that you do not want to sit in the same room. The Probation Officer can go back and forth between two rooms to talk to you. Do not let the father or the Probation Officer pressure you to agree to anything you do not want. You have the right to go in front of the judge if you cannot work out an agreement.

d. At the hearing, do not say anything until the judge asks you to speak. Then speak only to the judge. Do not speak to the father in the courtroom. Tell the judge what you are asking for and why. Try to be as brief as possible. Listen closely to the judge and answer questions as carefully as you can.

e. Get copies of any agreements/court orders.   If all issues (paternity, child support, custody, and visitation) are settled, then the court will make a judgment of paternity and you are finished.

 If any of these issues is not settled at the motion hearing, the judge will set a date for a case management conference or a pre-trial conference. At these conferences the judge wants to know about what you and the father have decided.  If you still cannot agree, the judge will set a date for a trial.

5. You will get a notice from the court with the trial date. If a long time passes before you get a trial date, the notice might say you have a "status conference" a few weeks before the trial.   The notice about a trial date or status conference will have instructions about what you need to do.

Talk with a lawyer if you have questions or concerns. 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.   The people who work at the Probate and Family Court cannot give you legal advice.

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