By means of this action a child can officially establish a parentage link with the person they think is their biological father.

The action to determine paternity, not to be confused with the recognition of paternity, is a legal procedure initiated to compel a father to recognise his child.

The parties concerned

This legal remedy is reserved for a child seeking to establish a relationship of parentage with their presumed father. They can act for a period of 10 years from the age of majority (up to the age of 28).If they are a minor, their mother will act for them.

If they are themselves a parent and die before they turn 28, their heirs may act in their place before the expiry of the period initially available to the deceased. If the deceased had initiated an action during their lifetime, the heirs have the right to pursue it.

In any case, an action to determine paternity is only exercised vis-à-vis the presumed father, or his heirs if he has died.

The procedure

An action to determine paternity must be brought before the district court of the place of residence of the presumed father. The assistance of a lawyer is mandatory.

The judge makes their decision taking into account all the elements presented by each of the parties. It is the responsibility of the applicant to demonstrate a link of parentage.

Proof of paternity can be provided by any means: correspondence between the presumed father and the mother (letters, emails, text messages), testimonies from relatives, photographs, etc.

The judge or the applicant may also request genetic expertise, subject to the consent of the presumed father. A refusal to submit to a paternity test may, however, be interpreted as an admission of paternity.

The effects

If the court grants the claim, parentage is established retroactively back to the child’s date of birth.

At the same time, the judge can rule on the exercise of parental authority, the father’s contribution to maintenance and upbringing or on the attribution of his surname in place of that of the child.

Worth knowing

An action to determine paternity is inadmissible in the event of incest, when the child is placed for adoption or when a relationship of parentage is already established with respect to another man. In the latter case, it is firstly necessary to contest the relationship of parentage previously established and obtain its annulment.


Reference text

Articles 325 to 331 and 352 of the French Civil Code