A paternity suit is an action filed in court when two people were never married, but have children together. A paternity suit is filed in the same court as a divorce action. This court is called the family law court. Unlike a divorce action, which can divide property, a paternity case can only deal with a limited number of issues. These include who the parents of each child is (paternity), who each child should live with (custody), how much time each child should with each parent (visitation) and child support). The court can also award attorney fees.
It is not uncommon for people who live together to own a home. The issues of what will happen to the home, how much the house is worth, and how much money each party has in equity cannot be decided in a family court when the parties are not married. In those cases where parents have children together, own a house together, but were never married, the parents have to file two law suits: a paternity action to settle any issues involving their children, and a civil lawsuit (called a partition action) to settle any issues involving property.
A paternity action is very different than a divorce in other respects, as well. For instance, there is no waiting period in a paternity action, and the process is completed much more quickly.
In order to begin a lawsuite, a Petition must be filed. Usually, an Order to Show Cause will accompany the filing, which will include a request for immediate orders. If the alleged father admits that he is the father of the child, the court will often enter a judgment at the first court appearance. Otherwise, the court will order a paternity test, the parties will return to court after they receive the results, and the court will enter a judgment at that hearing. While the results are pending, the court will generally not make orders for custody or support.