“Establishing paternity” means determining who is the legal father of the child. There are a number of situations in which it is necessary to identify the father and determine legal responsibility for a child. For example:
- when the state intervenes in a family and takes custody of a child, that child’s legal parents have a right to be notified;
- for a child to be adopted, both legal parents must consent to the adoption or have their rights terminated by a court;
- if a man is ordered to pay child support for a child that the man does not believe is his biological child, the man can contest the child support order by attempting to prove that he is not the father.
A man will be legally considered the father of a child, and have complete rights and responsibilities of a parent toward that child if:
- the man is married to the mother of the child at the time the child is born;
- the man is not married to the mother at the time the child is born, but is believed to be the father and later marries the mother (unless another man has said he is the father). In this situation, the parents should request a substitute birth certificate from the Alaska Bureau of Vital Statistics;
- a mother who is unmarried at the time the child is born and a man both sign a legal document which says the man is the father and file the document with the Alaska Bureau of Vital Statistics; this document is called an affidavit of paternity;
- a court determines that a man is the father of a child and issues a judgment of paternity.
The Alaska Child Support Services Division (CSSD) can establish paternity for a child of unmarried parents. CSSD will notify the man who might be the child’s father and ask him to admit that the child is his, or to take a paternity test.
If the man receives the notice, but does not respond and does not deny paternity, CSSD can enter a default order with the court stating that the man is the father of the child. With a default order, CSSD can begin to charge that man for child support.
If the man does not admit paternity but a paternity test shows a 95% or greater chance that the man is the child’s father, CSSD will set a date for a conference with that man to discuss parental rights and responsibilities including child support obligations. If follow-up tests confirm that man is the father, CSSD will enter an order with the court establishing paternity and charging the man for child support.
If a man has been caring for a child but has never admitted he is the father of the child, he may not be the legal parent. Within certain time limits and under certain conditions, a state court or the CSSD may determine that a man is not the legal father of a child. This is called disestablishing a man’s paternity of a child. If a state-approved paternity test shows that a man has less than a 95% chance of being the child’s father, the results of that test can be offered to the court to support an order that the man who was believed to be the child’s father is in fact not that child’s father.
If a man’s legal fatherhood is disestablished, the man no longer has future legal rights or responsibilities toward the child. However, the man may still owe child support from the past period when he did have legal responsibilities toward the child.
In situations in which the legal parent must be identified, it may be necessary to disestablish the paternity of a man who has been thought to be the parent. The state Office of Children’s Services (OCS) can ask a court to disestablish paternity if, based on the results of a paternity test, the man who was presumed or believed to be the child’s father is in fact not the biological father of that child. Usually, OCS asks a court to disestablish paternity so that OCS can search for the child’s biological father or free the child for adoption.
The CSSD can disestablish paternity by an administrative process. If a court never entered an order establishing paternity, the man never admitted he was the father, and genetic tests never confirmed the man’s paternity, then that man can ask CSSD to disestablish his paternity. But there is a three year time limit. If a man has reason to know he is thought to be the child’s father, and he doesn’t ask CSSD to disestablish his paternity within three years, then he can’t ask to be disestablished later on.