If you have a child outside of marriage, you may be wondering what your rights are as a father. Establishing your paternal rights is important to both you and your child. Your child deserves to have both parents in his or her life. Financial support is only one of many reasons your child needs you. Your emotional support and love are even more important. In Maryland, there are two ways to establish paternity. You can file an Affidavit of Parentage or request a court order. Here are five steps to follow:

  1. Talk to your childs mother. In many paternity cases, the mother is just as anxious to establish paternity as the father. Many mothers recognize the importance for her child to have both parents involved, both financially and emotionally. If you are able to work together, your process may be simpler.
  2. Affidavit of Parentage. If you and the mother agree, you can both sign an Affidavit of Parentage. This document establishes your paternity voluntarily. You can even sign it at birth, and your name will be included on the birth certificate. If you have any doubt that you are the father, however, you should not sign the affidavit. Either party can change their mind and rescind the affidavit within 60 days of the signing.
  3. Genetic testing. If one of you does not want to sign the Affidavit of Parentage, you will have to pursue your paternal rights in court. Proving your paternity is simple with DNA testing. You can contact the Child support Enforcement Administration in your area to perform the test.
  4. Filing in court. Once the DNA test shows you are the father, you and the child’s mother may sign a consent regarding paternity and support. If not, you will have to file for the court to formally declare you the father. At this point, you have all the legal rights and responsibilities of any parent.
  5. Child support and child custody. You may petition the court to award you custody or visitation rights. Maryland law has no presumption that one parent is better suited to custody than another, and will consider what is in the best interest of the child.  The court will also establish your child support responsibilities.

If you have doubts about your paternity, do not sign the Affidavit of Parentage. The genetic test will clarify things easily enough. In the meantime, respond to any summons you receive from the court and cooperate with the court’s requests. Establishing your paternity may not be the way you envisioned entering fatherhood, but the reward of a life-long relationship with your child is well worth it.