How is paternity established?
There are a number of ways paternity can be established:
- by the legal presumption that the mother’s husband is the father (see below “Husband presumed to be the child’s father”), or
- if a man is named on the child’s birth certificate as the father of the child (see below, “Being named as father on the child’s birth certificate”), or
- if a father and mother sign an Acknowledgement of Paternity (see below, “Acknowledgement of paternity”), or
- if a court makes a paternity order stating that a man is the father of a child (including an order made in a country outside New Zealand) (see in this section, “Paternity orders”), or
- if the Family Court or the High Court makes a declaration of paternity stating that a man is the father of a child (see in this section, “Declaration of paternity”).
Note: A declaration of paternity is the only way of conclusively proving paternity. The other methods of establishing paternity can be challenged in court.
Husband presumed to be the child’s father
When there’s no evidence to the contrary, a man is presumed to be the father of a child:
- if he was married to the child’s mother at the time of the child’s birth, or
- if the child was born within 10 months of the marriage ending, either because of the death of one person or due to it being dissolved by the court.
The mother can take the matter to court if she wants to prove this man is not the father of the child.
Note: Under current law, a man in a de facto or civil union relationship with a child’s mother is not presumed to be the father in the way a husband is. In those cases, paternity has to be established in one of the ways explained below.
A man who is not presumed to be a child’s father by law will have to establish paternity before he will legally be the father of a child.
Being named as father on the child’s birth certificate
The man named as the father on a child’s birth certificate is presumed to be the father of the child. However, this can be disputed in court.
How is a father named on a child’s birth certificate?
If the child’s parents are legally married to each other, or in a civil union or de facto relationship with each other, both parents sign the birth registration form, which is then given to the registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages.
If a registrar is satisfied that a child has only one parent at law, or the other parent is unavailable, or it would be too distressing otherwise, only one parent has to sign the birth registration form.
If a man was not married, in a civil union or de facto relationship with the mother of a child any time between the conception of the child and the birth of the child, he can only be named on the child’s birth certificate if he:
signed the birth registration form with the mother, or
- gave written permission, also signed by the mother, to put his name on the birth certificate, or
- signed the birth registration form on his own because the mother was unable to sign. This could be because she was dead, or missing, or of unsound mind, or unable to act because of a medical condition, or
- has had either a paternity order (see “Paternity orders” in this section) or guardianship order (see “Guardianship of children / Parents as guardians” in this chapter) made in his favour by the court, or
- has been declared by the Family Court or the High Court to be the father of the child (see “Declaration of paternity” in this section).
Acknowledgement of paternity
A man can acknowledge paternity in a written document which is signed by him and the mother, and also signed and witnessed by a lawyer. This document is called a Deed of Acknowledgement of Paternity.