Legally established paternity can affect parents and children in several important ways. For example, it can determine: whether a parent can be required to pay or entitled to receive child support, a child’s right to inherit from his or her parent’s estate, and finally determination of custodial rights.
The law in Mississippi presumes that a child born to a married mother is the legal child of the mother and her spouse. This presumption can be rebutted by the legal father (the mother’s spouse) if he believes that the child is not biologically his or by a biological father who wants legal rights to the child. For children in this type of disputed situation and for children otherwise born to unmarried parents, paternity is established by voluntary acknowledgement or legal action under the “Mississippi Uniform Law on Paternity” (MULP).
To establish paternity by voluntary acknowledgement means that the parents sign a notarized document agreeing on the father’s paternity. This document holds the same legal weight as a lawsuit to determine paternity. When a father establishes paternity by voluntary acknowledgement, he has a one-year time period during which he can take back his agreement. After that year, or if he is a party to a paternity action before the year is up, the agreement can only be disputed on the basis of “fraud, duress, or material mistake of fact.” Mississippi Code § 93-9-28 (2013)
Where there is no presumption of paternity or a voluntary acknowledgement, the MULP explains the procedure for bringing a paternity action. Typically, these actions are brought by a biological father claiming paternity, a legal father disputing paternity, or a child (often through the mother as his or her next friend) to establish paternity. In some cases, the Department of Human Services (DHS) might bring a paternity action to establish paternity of a child receiving public benefits. Parties to a paternity action should expect genetic testing for biological paternity to be involved. The MULP says that genetic testing can be ordered by any party to the action or by the court itself.
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