When a child is born within a marriage, the mother’s spouse automatically has legal paternity. If the couple is unmarried or if the biological father is someone other than the mother’s spouse, the biological father must take specific actions to establish legal paternity.
Establishing paternity in-hospital
Prior to the child being born or while the mother is still in the hospital giving birth, the unmarried parents can sign a Paternity Acknowledgement Affidavit.
- By signing the Affidavit, the father acknowledges he is the biological father.
- When the signatures of mother and father are notarized, legal paternity exists.
- The father's name will appear on the birth certificate, and the father must consent to the name of the child before the child's name appears on the birth certificate.
- A father signing just the birth certificate, without signing a Paternity Acknowledgement Affidavit, does not constitute paternity.
- The father is allowed only 60 days to rescind the Affidavit through the Department of Vital Records after the Affidavit is signed.
Establishing paternity after a child’s birth
There are several paths to establishing paternity, depending on circumstances.
1. When both parents want to voluntarily establish paternity:
- They must complete the Paternity Acknowledgement Affidavit at either S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) or the county health department in the county where the child was born
- Staff can answer questions and notarize parents’ signatures.
- A $15 fee is charged for the completion.
2. When a father wants to independently establish paternity through the Department of Social Services (DSS) or the Child Support Enforcement Division (CSE):
- The father must fill out a Non-Custodial Parent Application for Services (available at DSS child support offices) and pay a $25 processing fee.
- A DNA test will be conducted at no charge. If DNA test results are positive, DSS certifies legal paternity and usually encourages the mother to seek child support if the parents don’t live together.
- If DNA test results are negative, child support will not be pursued.
3. If a mother seeks child support and legal paternity has not been established, DSS and CSE will pursue the establishment of legal paternity before setting child support.
- In these situations, legal paternity can be based on a man answering that yes, he is the biological father of a child, without any DNA evidence. Men may not be aware that by answering yes to paternity questions in court, they are establishing legal paternity forever.
- If there is any doubt in the man’s mind, he should request a DNA test at the initial DSS/CSE administrative hearing.
- Recent statistics show that in more than a quarter of cases in which a DNA test was requested by a father, the test came back negative—proving the man was not the biological father after all.
Fathers can also establish legal paternity through private means.
- A father can hire a lawyer and file a suit. The lawsuit will be identical to the case brought through DSS/CSE but will be considerably more expensive.
- A father can use a private lab for DNA tests, which can cost $600 or more, with payment required before the test is conducted.
- Low-income fathers in our program don’t usually opt for this approach because of the expenses involved.
Use our Father's Guide to Establishing Paternity in SC.