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Paternity/Parentage Establishment

Paternity/parentage establishment means determining the parent of a child. If a child's parents were not married or in a civil marriage/union when the child was born, the law does not recognize the other parent unless paternity/parentage is legally established. Establishing paternity/parentage will give your child the same rights and benefits as children born to married parents. These rights and benefits include:

  • Other parent's name is on the birth certificate
  • Legal proof and identity of the child's parents
  • Family medical history (helpful with inherited health issues)
  • Medical or life insurance from either parent (if available)
  • Financial support from both parents, including child support, inheritance, military allowances, social security, and/or veteran benefits.

Establishing paternity/parentage gives both parents legal rights to:

  • Seek a court order for child support.
  • Seek a court order for custody or visitation.
  • Have a say in certain legal decisions about the child.

The easiest way to establish paternity, for parents over the age of 18, is administratively (without going to court) via the Voluntary Acknowledgement of Paternity (VAP) program whereby both biological parents sign a legal document, agreeing the child is theirs.

Signing the VAP can be done at the hospital after the baby is born, or at a local Office of Vital Statistics, or Child Support Services office, anytime until the child turns 18, or 19 years of age if the child is still in High School.

When unmarried parents sign the VAP, the parent's names will be placed on the birth certificate by the Office of Vital statistics. If either parent changes their mind, they have 60 days to appeal. If the mother was married during the 300 days before the child was born, OR if the mother was not married, but during the first two years of the birth of the child, another man continuously lived with the child and acknowledged the child as his own, then that person is considered the presumed father.

In order for the mother and biological father to complete the Voluntary Acknowledgement, both the mother and the presumed father must complete a form called the Denial of Paternity (DOP). Both the Denial of Paternity (DOP) and the Voluntary Acknowledgement of Paternity (VAP) must be filed with the Office of Vital Statistics (OVS). Neither document is valid until both have been filed.  If a couple wishes to sign a VAP, but is not sure who the biological father is, the mother, father, and child(ren) should obtain a paternity (genetic or DNA) test. The test can show up to 99% probability whether a man is the child's biological father.

Parents who are under the age of 18 (minors) and wish to establish paternity for their child(ren), can do so by following the process established by DCSS in conjunction with the resources available at the Delaware Family Court.  With the passing of House Bill 432, in October 2022, effective April 23, 2023, for added protection, minors are no longer able to sign VAPs to establish paternity for their child(ren).  Generally, minors will be afforded the opportunity for genetic testing, where the cost will be covered by DCSS.   

To learn more about the importance of establishing paternity, watch the Power of Two video online, and/or contact DCSS's Customer Service Unit.