Establishing Paternity

What is paternity?

Paternity means fatherhood. Pennsylvania law requires fathers to share in the legal and financial responsibilities for their child up until the child is 18 years old or graduates from high school, whichever happens last.

What if the mother is married?

Under current Pennsylvania law, when a child is born to a married woman, the husband is the presumed legal father of the child.

Note: Pennsylvania no longer recognizes Common Law Marriage.

What if the mother and father are not married?

In Pennsylvania, when a child is born to a woman who is unmarried, there is no legal relationship between the father and the child. The father of a child born to an unmarried woman is not the father for legal purposes unless:

  • A valid Acknowledgement of Paternity (AOP) form (PA/CS 611) signed by both parents is on record, or
  • A court has entered an order that establishes the legal father of the child.

What is an AOP form and when can it be signed?

If the mother is unmarried, she and the father may sign an AOP form. At the time of birth, the hospital staff will give the unmarried mother and birth father an AOP form to complete. The hospital staff can submit the completed form. 

After leaving the hospital, if both parties wish to file an AOP, the form can be obtained at county assistance offices, the DRS or by contacting the Department of Human Services, Bureau of Child Support Enforcement Paternity Coordinator at 1-800-932-0211, option number two. Someone at all of these places will help you complete the form.

An AOP form must include the signed consent of the birth mother and signature of the birth father. The signatures must be witnessed by someone other than the birth mother or birth father. Mail the competed form to  BCSE at the address located on the bottom of the AOP. Once BCSE determines the form is valid, it is recorded as an acknowledgement of paternity.

Do not sign the AOP form if either party is unsure of who is the father. Instead, contact or go to your county DRS to have paternity established through the court. The court may order genetic testing. See the resources sections to find the telephone number of your county DRS.

Can the AOP form be rescinded after it is submitted?

A voluntary acknowledgement of paternity may be canceled by either party within 60 days after the form is signed or before the date of a court proceeding related to the child, whichever is sooner. After 60 days, the acknowledgement of paternity may be challenged in court only on the basis of fraud, duress or material mistake of fact, which must be established by clear and convincing evidence.

What if the putative father will not sign the AOP form?

The court will order genetic testing. If the putative father fails to report for genetic testing, the court may issue an order finding him to be the father of the child.

Is a putative father, who is a minor, legally able to sign the voluntary AOP form?

A minor can sign the AOP form without parental consent, as long as he/she fully understands his or her rights, responsibilities and obligations with respect to the child and the alternatives to and the legal consequences of signing the AOP form. If there are any doubts, the AOP form should not be signed. The minor is encouraged to speak with his/her parents or a trusted adult for guidance.

Who is responsible for paying for DNA testing?

DNA testing costs are subject to recoupment from the putative father if paternity is established. This cost will be added as a fee to the child support order.

Who needs to participate in the DNA testing?

In order to establish paternity, the mother, the child and the alleged father must all participate in the DNA testing.

What is the DNA testing process?

The DNA collection process is performed using a buccal swab. This procedure is quick and painless. A cotton swab is inserted in the mouth and rubbed along the inside of the cheek. The cells from the cheek are then sent to the laboratory for the DNA testing.

In addition to the buccal swab, the parties will be photographed and possibly fingerprinted.

What if the birth mother will not sign the AOP form?

A man claiming to be the father of the child may make a claim of paternity. The man needs to complete the child's information section, the child's birthplace information section, the mother's name and the father's information section on the AOP form. This allows the man to be notified of certain legal proceedings about the child but does not give him any parental rights.