Establishing paternity may be a necessity in cases where North Carolina parents are not married to one another. It is the first step in getting child support from the father, but there are a number of other reasons to establish paternity as well. One is that the children have a right to know who their father is and the opportunity to build a relationship with him if possible. Another is that knowledge of paternity may alert children to the likelihood of any genetic medical issues. Establishing paternity also allows a children to inherit from a father and receive veteran's and other benefits from the father. Finally, paternity allows a father to request visitation or custody rights.
Paternity can be established by a father who is present and willing to do so by signing an acknowledgement at the time of the child's birth. It may also be established at any time when the child is a minor by signing an affidavit of paternity.
If the mother does not know where the father is or the father is unwilling to acknowledge paternity, she can get help from the local office of child support enforcement. Agencies such as the IRS can help locate the father who will then be asked to take a genetic test. A refusal could result in assigning default paternity.
In a divorce, this process is generally not necessary since the legal assumption is that the husband is the father of the children. However, it is still necessary to go through the process of getting a formal child support order and child custody and visitation schedules. Making these agreements legally binding has the advantage of giving parents a mechanism for enforcement if the other parent does not observe the terms of the agreement. These agreements can be modified later if needed.