Duhaime's Law Dictionary

Paternity Definition:

Being a father.

Related Terms: DNA, Illegitimate Child, Legitimate Child, Pater est quem nuptiae demonstrant

"The state or condition of a father."1

In Duckett, Justice Anderson of the Court of Appeals of South Carolina deferred to those same words;

"Paternity is defined as the state or condition of a father; the relationship of a father. "

The legal acknowledgement, recognition or declaration that a male person is the natural father to another.

From the Latin pater, the father. See, for example, pater est quem nuptiae demonstrant.

Paternity suits are launched when a man denies paternity of a child born out of wedlock (and sometimes even when the child is born during the marriage!).

New technology of DNA testing can establish paternity thus obliging the father to provide child support.

In Ellis v Bennett, Justice Wendell Griffin of the Court of Appeals of Arkansas made this important distinction:

"... paternity is not synonymous with legitimacy.... Paternity relates to the biological relationship between a man and child; legitimacy relates to the legal relationship of father to child. It is the subsequent marriage and acknowledgement of paternity (as contrasted to actual paternity) that renders a child born out of wedlock legitimate for other purposes under Arkansas law. "


  • Duckett v. Goforth, 649 SE 2d 72 (2007)
  • Ellis v Bennett, 10 SW 3d 922 (2000)
  • NOTE 1: Shumaker, Walter and Longsdorf, George Foster, The Cyclopedic Dictionary of Law Comprising the Terms and Phrases of American Jurisprudence, Including Ancient and Modern Common Law, International Law, and Numerous Select Titles From the Civil Law, the French and the Spanish Law, Etc., Etc. With an Exhaustive Collection of Legal Maxims (St. Paul, Minnesota: Keefe-Davidson Law Book Company, 1901).

Categories & Topics:

Always looking up definitions? Save time with our search provider (modern browsers only)

If you find an error or omission in Duhaime's Law Dictionary, or if you have suggestion for a legal term, we'd love to hear from you!