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West Virginia Child Support Enforcement


Paternity Establishment

What is paternity establishment?

If a child is born to parents who are not married, the father must be legally identified before child support can be obtained. This process is called establishing paternity. The BCSE will assist the mother and/or child in establishing paternity. The BCSE will also help a man who believes he may be the father establish paternity if the child has no legal father.

Unless the father becomes a legal father, the child may miss out on many of the things that children of married couples take for granted. The child may not receive the benefits that come with having two legal parents, such as Social Security and inheritance rights. If paternity is not established, the father's name will not appear on the child's birth certificate.

Why does the Department of Health and Human Resources establish paternity?

Fatherhood must be legally recognized to obtain a child support order. By law, if a family receives public assistance benefits and the parents are not married, the Department of Heath and Human Resources (DHHR) must establish legal paternity. Child support can only be collected from or for a legal father.

How do I make sure my child has a legal father?

Marriage. If the parents are married and living together at the time the child is conceived or born.

Voluntary Acknowledgment of Paternity. Unmarried parents can sign a document stating they are the child's mother and father to establish the legal paternity of their child. This legal document, called a Declaration of Paternity Affidavit, may be picked up at your local county DHHR office, BCSE office, or the Office of Vital Statistics. The Affidavit may be obtained and completed at any of the birthing hospitals or birthing centers in West Virginia at the time of the child's birth. Signing this form is the easiest way for unmarried parents to establish paternity. 

Court Order. Paternity may also be established by a court order.

What if the alleged father is unsure he is the father or denies paternity?

If the father does not admit paternity or is not sure he is the child's father, genetic tests may be ordered and a court order may be entered to establish paternity. Genetic tests of the mother, child, and the alleged father can determine the likelihood of paternity or exclude a man as a possible father. Usually a father will admit paternity when genetic test results show he is the biological father of the child. If the father continues to state he is not the father, he may ask for a court hearing. The judge at a court hearing listens to both sides and considers the test results and all evidence. Other evidence, such as admissions of paternity and previous payment provided to the child, can also help establish paternity. Alleged fathers will often sign a stipulated order for paternity based on the results of the genetic tests.

How does the genetic testing process work?

Genetic tests can be scheduled through the BCSE. Samples of cells are taken from blood samples of the mother, child, and alleged father.

How does the BCSE establish paternity?

When a case is opened, the BCSE will take the necessary steps to verify location of the alleged father prior to establishing any type of order. This process may take several months depending on the information available at the time of intake. If the alleged father lives in the local area, the BCSE will process a paternity or child support complaint when the custodial parent visits the office for the first time.

Once the complaint is filed with the Circuit Clerk's office, the BCSE must serve the alleged father with a Summons and Complaint. Once served, the alleged father has 20 days to file an answer to the complaint with the Clerk's office. After an answer is filed, the BCSE will prepare a Blood Test Order for genetic testing, if requested. Otherwise, once the answer period is up, the BCSE will schedule the case for a hearing. This is normally the longest process as the local court docket is very heavy. It can take an average of six months to get a hearing date. Once a hearing is held, a temporary order is entered on the same day.

If the alleged father fails to file an answer with the Clerk's office, the BCSE will proceed with a default judgment order. This means that a hearing will be held without the alleged father having filed an answer to the paternity and/or child support complaint. The same process takes place in getting a hearing. Once the hearing is held, a temporary order is entered on the same day.

What rights do legal fathers have?

Once paternity is established, legal fathers have the right to have a relationship with and visit the child as the father and mother agree. You can also ask the court to determine visitation and custody. By law, the BCSE may not assist either the father or the mother with custody or visitation issues.

What are the responsibilities of legal fathers?

Both parents are required to support their child from birth. If your child does not live with you, you will most likely be required to pay child support and provide medical insurance for your child.

What information should I bring?

To establish paternity, BCSE will need the following information (if known):

  • Full name, address, and phone number of the alleged father

  • Date of birth and physical description or picture of the alleged father

  • Social Security number of the alleged father

  • Child's birth certificate

  • Names of friends and relatives of the alleged father

  • Listing of all legal actions relating to paternity and/or support

  • Whether you receive or have ever received public assistance benefits

  • Whether you have contacted an attorney regarding paternity and/or support

If the alleged father has denied paternity, it may also be helpful to bring other evidence of paternity such as records of money provided to the child, pictures of the father with the child, and admissions that he is the child's father through letters or gifts.


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