Paternity actions in Massachusetts are defined under Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 209C "Children Born Out of Wedlock." In Massachusetts, a child has the right to support regardless of whether his or her parents were married; likewise, an unmarried father has a right under the law for regular visitation with his child. Paternity actions in Massachusetts include establishment of paternity, child support, and visitation rights. The term "child born out of wedlock" by law refers to any child born to a man and woman who are not married to each other, including a child who was conceived and born to parents who were not married to each other but who subsequently intermarry and whose paternity has not been acknowledged by word or deed. Every person is responsible for the support of his child born out of wedlock from its birth up to the age of eighteen or, where such child is domiciled in the home of a parent and principally dependent upon said parent for maintenance to the age of twenty-one. In some cases, this can even extend later (see Emancipation of Children).
If both parties agree as to the father's identity, then Massachusetts courts will establish paternity in accordance with this agreement. However, if the two parties do not agree as to the father's identity, then Massachusetts courts will order DNA testing to determine paternity; such DNA testing may also serve to disestablish paternity (that is, determine that one of the parties is not the father of the child).
Once paternity has been established by the court, the father will be ordered to pay child support according to Massachusetts' guidelines, such support may be retroactive to the child's date of birth. This can lead the father to owing a substantial amount of child support if the parents had waited a long time before establishing paternity.
Paternity actions in order to obtain child support are typically initiated by the mother; on the other hand, paternity actions are often initiated by the father in order to obtain visitation rights with his child(ren) following the breakup of the relationship between the mother and the father. When fathers initiate paternity action for the purposes of custody or visitation, mothers counter by demanding increased levels of child support.
In some instances, a child has the ability to bring paternity action advanced by a representative of the minor child, where the motivating factor is the protection of the child's interest.