How to establish paternity

Introduction

The paternity of a child can be established in a number of different ways -

  • The child's father can sign an "acknowledgement of paternity", stating that he is the father. The acknowledgement must also be signed by the mother.
  • A husband is presumed to be the father of children born to his wife during their marriage or within 10 months after their marriage is dissolved. This is only a presumption and can be disproved in Court.
  • The man named as a child's father on the birth certificate is presumed to be the child's father. Again, this presumption can be disproved in Court.
  • The Family Court or High Court can declare that a man is, or is not, a child's father.

Acknowledgement of paternity

A man can state that he is the father of a child by signing a "Deed of Acknowledgement of Paternity". This must also be signed by the child's mother.

Presumption that husband is child's father

A man is legally presumed to be the father of a child if -

  • he and the mother were married to each other when the child was born, or
  • the child was born within 10 months after the marriage was dissolved

A man could therefore establish his paternity of a child in this way by providing a Court with a copy of the marriage certificate or dissolution order. He might want to do this if, for example, he is separated from the mother and is applying to the Family Court for a parenting order under the Care of Children Act 2004 to give him a role in caring for the child.

However, his status as husband creates only a legal presumption of paternity. A presumption will be decisive if there is no evidence to the contrary. The child's mother may be able to prove – for example, by DNA tests – that the man is not the child's father.

Establishing paternity with the birth certificate

The man named as the father of a child on the child's birth certificate is presumed to be the father. Again, this is only a presumption, and it can be disproved in Court.

A man can be named as the father on the birth certificate in one of two ways -

  • He can sign the child's birth registration form with the mother. The form is then given to the Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages.
  • He can sign a written notice asking to be recorded as the child's father. The mother must also sign the notice. It is then given to the Registrar.

Asking the Court to decide a question of paternity

The Family Court can be asked to resolve a dispute about paternity. A child's mother may ask the Court to make a "paternity order" under the FAMILY PROCEEDINGS ACT 1980 against a man who denies being the father. A man may also ask the Court to make a "declaration of paternity" under the STATUS OF CHILDREN ACT 1969 that he is a child's father, or, if he believes there has been a mistake, that he is not the father.

In certain cases other people can ask the Court to decide a question of paternity.

The High Court can also make declarations of paternity under the STATUS OF CHILDREN ACT 1969.

Applications forms for paternity orders (FP 15) and declarations of paternity (FP 15A) are available on the Family Court website at www.justice.govt.nz/family, under Legislation & legal resources / Forms.

"Parentage" tests

If the Court has been asked to decide a question of paternity, it can recommend that "parentage tests" be carried out. Parentage tests might involve blood samples, or mouth scrapings from both the child and the man.

Both the mother and the man can ask the Court to recommend that parentage tests be carried out.

The man is not legally required to have parentage tests. He can refuse to give blood or other samples, and therefore his DNA will not be able to be tested. However, the Court is entitled to infer what it wishes from the man's refusal.

Cautionary notes
  • If you, as a mother, face a battle with a father who denies paternity, you should obtain legal advice. Legal aid may be available to cover the costs of applying for paternity applications to the court (see How to obtain civil legal aid).


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