Cincinnati Family Law & Divorce Blog: Is it Important to Establish Paternity in Ohio?

When a child is born to married parents or within 300 days of the termination of a marriage, there is a legal presumption that the husband is the father of the child. However, it is increasingly common that children are born to unmarried parents. In this case, there is no an automatic presumption, and fathers must take further steps to establish paternity. Establishing paternity is important because it is necessary for fathers to establish parenting rights, for the child to be able to inherit Social Security and Veteran’s benefits from the father, and it provides a sense of identity for the child.


There are a few different options on how an unmarried father may establish paternity. Both parents can sign a Paternity Affidavit, a document that acknowledges who the biological parents are without the need for genetic testing. This form is usually generated by the hospital but it can also be provided by the local Child Support Enforcement Agency (“CSEA”) office.  The form includes affirmations from both the mother and the father that they are the natural parents and they assume the parental duty of support of the child. The father can be placed on the child’s birth certificate if both the mother and father sign the Paternity Affidavit. No signatures are required on the original birth certificate. If you are wondering whether you signed a Paternity Affidavit, these records are easy to request from the Central Paternity Registry. A parent has 60 days from the date of the last signature to rescind the Paternity Affidavit. A rescission form can be obtained through the local CSEA office.


Another option for establishing paternity is by way of an administrative order through the local CSEA office. This option is good for fathers who wish to seek genetic testing. The CSEA can order everyone to submit to paternity testing and issue an order of paternity if the results come back that the man is the biological father of the child. Fathers should contact the local CSEA office where the mother resides to initiate this process. This administrative order then provides a legal basis for the father to seek custody and/or visitation through the local juvenile court.


The third option for establishing paternity is through a court order from the juvenile court. This occurs when one person initiates a paternity lawsuit against the other. The judge may order genetic testing and hear evidence on whether the alleged father is the child’s biological father. The judge can then enter a final paternity order. After paternity is established, there is a basis for the court to issue an order of child support, custody, or visitation.


In Ohio, unmarried mothers have full custody of their children until a court orders otherwise. Merely signing a paternity affidavit or establishing paternity through the CSEA does not establish parenting rights. However, establishing paternity by one of the above methods is necessary for fathers to gain the legal standing to ask a court for visitation or custody of their children.