Pregnancy doesn’t just happen to married couples who have planned for it. Unexpected pregnancies can occur even between people who aren’t in a relationship, and couples who don’t get married can choose to intentionally have a child.

Regardless of the circumstances that led to you fathering a child with a woman who is not your wife, it’s important for you to familiarize yourself with your rights under North Carolina’s laws. Provided that you establish paternity, you have the same rights as any other parent. If you want to play a role in the life of your child, establishing legal paternity is usually the first step toward doing so.

How old the child is determines what options you have

Prior to the birth of the child or while they are still quite young, you and the mother can potentially reach an agreement to acknowledge your paternity at any point. Provided that the mother agrees that you are the father, you can execute an Affidavit of Parentage to have your named added to state records, like the birth certificate, as the father of the child.

However, once the child turns 3 years old or if the mother doesn’t want to acknowledge you, you will generally have to prove a biological connection in order to formally establish paternity. In other words, the longer you wait and the more contentious the situation, the more likely it becomes that a paternity action will require court involvement and genetic testing.

While that may mean more steps between you and paternity, it is still a worthwhile endeavor that you can perform any time until your child turns 18.