There are several ways that a father can establish legal paternity and different points in time when it can be done. The methods for establishing legal paternity are as follows:
In-hospital Paternity Establishment
Prior to the child being born or while the mother is still in the hospital giving birth, the unmarried father can sign a Paternity Acknowledgement Affidavit. By signing the Affidavit (mother must sign as well) the father is acknowledging that he is the biological father. At the point where the signatures of mother and father are notarized, legal paternity exists. The father's name will appear on the birth certificate and the father must consent to the name of the child before the child's name appears on the birth certificate. However, the father signing the birth certificate alone without signing a Paternity Acknowledgement Affidavit does not constitute paternity. The father is only allowed 60 days to rescind the Affidavit through the Department of Vital Records after the Affidavit is signed.
Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC)
If the parents do not complete the Paternity Acknowledgement Affidavit at the hospital and they later wish to voluntarily establish paternity and place the father's name on the birth certificate, they must complete the Affidavit at either the State DHEC Office or the county health department in the county where the child was born. Trained staff is available to answer questions and notarize parents' signatures. There is a $15.00 fee for completion of the Affidavit at these locations.
Department of Social Services/Child Support Enforcement Division
Fathers may apply to DSS/CSE to establish legal paternity and conduct DNA testing.
The father must fill out a Non-Custodial Parent Application for Services (available at all DSS child support offices) and pay a $25.00 fee for the processing of the Application through DSS/CSE. This method is useful in situations where the mother has been unwilling to complete the Paternity Acknowledgement Affidavit. The DNA test costs the father absolutely nothing up front. However, fathers should be made aware that if DNA test results are positive, DSS will most likely encourage the mother to seek child support if the parents do not reside together. In addition, if the DNA test does come back positive, the father will be asked to repay the cost of the test ($125.00) over a period of time. The payments are often broken down into small, reasonable payments and should not prevent any father from seeking this route. If the DNA test is negative, the father will not be required to pay the DNA test fee and child support will not be pursued.
DSS/Child Support Administrative Hearing
If a father never established legal paternity through any of the above methods and the mother has applied to DSS/CSE to establish a child support order, DSS/CSE becomes responsible for pursuing the establishment of legal paternity prior to setting the child support order. The majority of fatherhood participants have established legal paternity through this method. Unfortunately, many of them are unaware that legal paternity was established at this hearing, and they are also unaware of the significance of legal paternity. During administrative hearings, DSS/CSE caseworkers will often ask the man if he is the biological father of the child without offering explanation as to the significance of his response. A father may respond in the affirmative, even though doubts exist; thus, a father may be completely unaware that by saying yes, legal paternity is forever established. If there is any doubt in the father's mind regarding whether or not the child is his, a DNA test should be requested by the father at the initial DSS/CSE administrative hearing. Recent statistics from DSS/CSE indicate that in over 45% of the cases where a DNA test was requested by the father, the DNA test came back negative. Therefore, it is important that the test be requested if the father has any doubt. A doubtful father inevitably becomes a more reluctant payor once the child support order has been established.
Private lawsuits and private genetic testing
The last two methods are rarely seen in fatherhood programs geared to low-income fathers because both are relatively expensive methods for establishing legal paternity. However, the father may not involve DSS and instead pursue legal paternity by hiring an attorney to bring suit. The lawsuit, although identical to the case brought by DSS/CSE, will be considerably more expensive. In addition, the father may avoid going through DSS/CSE by utilizing a private lab.
However, the cost for the genetic test through most private labs is approximately $600.00 or more, and the money must be paid up front before the test is conducted. The information contained in this paragraph does not constitute legal advisement.