For heterosexual married couples, the issue of paternity is quite simple. If a woman has a child, her husband is automatically the legal father. It is different for unmarried couples, however. Then the biological father is not automatically the legal father. To become the legal father as well, he must acknowledge paternity. That is, he must have it publicly recorded with an official governmental agency. Many hetero couples choose to do the paternity recognition (Vaterschaftsanerkennung) before the birth. However, it is also possible to do it any time afterwards. Taking care of the paternity recognition before birth has the advantage of ensuring that the father is entered in the official birth certificate (Geburtsurkunde) and the birth register (Geburtenbuch) at the same time. If this happens later, the civil registration office (Standesamt) has to issue a new, corrected certificate, which costs extra.

Of course, there are also men who deny being a baby’s biological father or who refuse to acknowledge paternity. It may also be that several men are possible biological fathers to one baby. If you want paternity to be officially established, you can get support. To do so, you must apply for a legal guardianship (Beistandschaft) at the Youth Welfare Office (Jugendamt). A Youth Welfare Office employee then becomes your child's guardian, in other words, their legal representative. The guardian will ask the man you have named as the child's father to voluntarily acknowledge paternity. If the man denies paternity, the guardian can initiate proceedings in family court to establish paternity.

Paternity recognition (Vaterschaftsanerkennung) is significant for a child of unmarried parents for several reasons. Only then is the family relationship officially recognised. It gives your child certain rights that they would not otherwise have. For example, your child is then entitled to inheritance, child support, and to a ‘half-orphan's pension’ (Halbwaisenrente) if their father dies young. The issue of paternity also affects custody. If you are not married, you will have sole custody for the time being. The father only gets custody if you both declare in writing to the Youth Welfare Office that you want to exercise parental care for your child together. Another possibility is for the father to have a court clarify the extent to which he will receive parental custody. The prerequisite for this option is that he has previously acknowledged paternity. It is also important for children’s emotional development to know who their parents are. And paternity recognition also plays a role for you as well. If you cannot go to work because you care for your child alone, you are generally entitled to be paid childcare maintenance by your child’s father. You can make this claim up to three years after birth.

If you are not married, the biological father can acknowledge paternity. However, this is only possible if you agree. Like the paternity recognition (Vaterschaftsanerkennung) itself, your consent to paternity recognition must be publicly notarized. For women who are already married to one man but are expecting a child from another, the situation is different. In purely legal terms, the man to whom the woman is married at the time of the birth is considered the child’s father. If the woman does not agree and divorce proceedings are already in progress, for example, the Youth Welfare Office can help to clarify the situation. They can advise whether the paternity can be settled out of court by notarisation or if it must be settled in court.

There are several places where you can have your child’s paternity acknowledged. Civil registration offices (Standesamt) and Youth Welfare Offices (Jugendamt) usually do this free of charge. You have to pay money for this service at a local court or at a notary. You must make appointments for the notarisation in advance. The best thing to do is to have the paternity recognition (Vaterschaftsanerkennung) and your consent notarised at the same time in one appointment. This will save you time and effort. You can make a joint appointment with your child’s father. Or you can also make separate appointments. Either way, each of you must bring your own identity card or passport. Sometimes further documentation is required. It is best to ask which documents are needed when you make the appointment.

If you are married to a woman, your wife cannot automatically become a legal parent. This also applies if you live together in a registered partnership. The only way for your wife or partner to also become the legal parent of your child is through adoption.