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The South Carolina Center for Fathers and Families

Establishing Paternity

Children benefit when fathers establish legal paternity. Children respond best when they receive love and support from both parents. They gain a sense of belonging and benefit knowing that both of their parents care for them. It is important that they know who their father is and that he cares about them

Creates Family Identity: When children know they are part of a family, they are likely to be more secure in who they are. Establishing paternity identifies the father's side of the family and encourages development of a relationship with his family.

Enables Shared Parenting: Parenting is the responsibility of both the father and the mother. Studies show that early establishment of paternity may lead to increased involvement by the father which often results in a decrease in high risk behavior by the children. More resources are available when both parents share the responsibility of raising their child.

Provides Health History: Establishing paternity helps establish the child's health history. It is important for children and their physicians to know the family's medical history.

Other Benefits Offered: Participation by both parents may expand children's access to health insurance and/or benefits such as Social Security or inheritance.

Establishing Paternity

When a child is born within a legally recognized marriage, the male spouse of the mother is automatically designated as having legal paternity without any other action begin taken by the mother or her husband, regardless of whether or not he is the biological father. If the couple is unmarried or the biological father is someone other than the spouse of the mother, the biological father must complete the defined process to establish legal paternity. IF YOU ARE NOT CERTAIN THAT YOU ARE THE FATHER, DO NOT COMPLETE A PATERNITY ACKNOWLEDGMENT FORM.

How Can Legal Paternity Be Established By An Unmarried Father?

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.

A Guide to Paternity and Visitation (pdf)

Could you be the father of a child born out of wedlock? Do you know about the Responsible Father Registry?

You must act to protect your rights. South Carolina has the Responsible Father Registry which allows you to place your name, address and the names of the birth mother and child (if known) on the Registry. You can file before or after the child is born but you must do so before an action to terminate parental rights or for adoption has been filed with the court.

Once your name is listed on the registry, your parental rights cannot be terminated and your child cannot be adopted without you being given notice. If you move or change your address, you must notify the Registry of the change of address or you will lose your right to receive notification. Once you register, you will receive a certificate from the Department of Social Services that verifies that you have filed this claim.

If you do not file the claim of paternity with the Registry, the law states that you have given up your right to receive notice or be named as a party and served with papers if a case for termination of parental rights or adoption is filed. The law does require that you be given notice if any one of these four situations exists: (1) a court has found you to be the father of the child, (2) your name is on the birth certificate, (3) you are openly living with the child, the child's mother, or both, or (4) the mother has named you as the father in a sworn, written statement.

You, as the father, are the only one who can file this claim; no one else can do it for you. If, at a later date, you decide that this was not the right thing for you to do, you may file a revocation with the Department of Social Services. This action cancels the claim.

There is no cost to you to file the claim, revoke the claim or change your address.

When you file the claim, you are not admitting paternity of the child and your claim can not be used in court as evidence in any proceeding. The Department of Social Services keeps the Registry which is not subject to public information. The Registry can only be checked under these circumstances: (1) when the Department of Social Services has an open child welfare case and has filed a written request, or (2) when a child placing agency or an attorney handling an adoption or termination of parental rights case files a written request. The Department of Social Services may not use the registry to locate non-custodial parents to establish or enforce child support.

You may file a claim with the Responsible Father Registry online at You will need to create an account and complete the on-line form. Or, print out the form, complete it by hand and mail it to the following:

South Carolina Department of Social Services
Responsible Father Registry
P.O. Box 1520
Columbia, SC 29202
Visit for more information.