Paternity is legally being someone's father. Paternity establishes who the father of a child is and who has the status, rights and responsibilities of fatherhood. Establishing who the legal father is can be very important when:
- a man wants to prove that he is, or is not, the father of a particular child
- a father applies to the Family Court so that he can have day-to-day care of, or contact with a child (a parenting order)
- a mother applies for benefits or child support
- a child claims the right to inherit property from someone the child believes is their father
- a mother applies for child support from the father
- a person claims New Zealand citizenship on the basis of their father’s citizenship.
There are a number of ways paternity can be established:
- the law presumes a husband is the father of any child born to his wife while they were married or within 10 months after they were divorced (but this can be disputed in Court)
- a man named on the child’s birth certificate is presumed to be the father (this can also be disputed in Court)
- the father can sign an Acknowledgement of Paternity (the mother must also sign it)
- a Court can make a paternity order or declaration stating that a man is the father of a child.
If there’s a dispute about the paternity of a child, the mother can apply to the Family Court to resolve it by making a paternity order against a man who denies being the child’s father. This may be necessary to establish that she’s entitled to child support or the Domestic Purposes Benefit (DPB). A man can also ask the Court to declare that he is or is not the father of a child. In some cases other people too can apply to the Family Court for a paternity order. The High Court can also resolve paternity disputes by declaring that a man is or is not a child’s father. Often the Court will recommend DNA tests. These involve either blood samples or mouth swab samples from the man, the mother and the child. The man can refuse to take the test, but the Court can take his refusal into account in making its decision.
If the parents are not married when a child is born, the mother must register the birth. The father acknowledges paternity and is named on the certificate if he signs the birth registration papers with the mother and gives written permission to be included on the birth certificate. If the father is not named on the birth certificate, legal paternity can be established later through a Deed of Paternity or the Courts. Talk to a lawyer or community law centre about acknowledging paternity, getting a paternity order or arranging a declaration of paternity.