Fostering and maintaining the relationship between a child and both its mother and its father is something that Massachusetts laws encourage regardless of the marital status of the parents. The laws concerning support, custody and visitation focus on the best interests of the child establishing a role for each parent to play in a child’s life.
For parents who have never been married, it is important to establish paternity. Paternity may be established through a written acknowledgment signed by both the mother and the father of the child. It can also be the subject of a court proceeding in the Probate and Family Court of Massachusetts.
Paternity proceedings usually include DNA testing. Even where the parties sign an acknowledgment of paternity, if the child is under six months of age when it is signed, either party to it may request genetic testing within one year to prove that the acknowledgment is incorrect as to the father of the child. Paternity tests are not an option if the child is six months of age or older when the document was signed.
Once paternity has been established, the father has all of the rights and obligations that he would have had if paternity were not an issue. This includes the right to petition the court for shared or sole custody, the right to visitation and the duty to support the child.
If the parents can come to an agreement between themselves on custody rights and visitation rights, courts will usually accept it as long as it appears to take the child’s best interests into consideration. A Salem, Massachusetts, divorce attorney can be of assistance by providing legal advice on paternity actions, shared custody and other aspects of a father’s rights.