North Carolina law requires parents to support their minor children regardless of their own marital status. A mother or father who “willfully neglects” this duty is guilty of a misdemeanor. This applies to any illegitimate child residing in North Carolina regardless of where he or she was born.
The mother of an illegitimate child may sue the reputed father for support within three years of the child’s birth, three years of the father’s last support payment, or if a court previously established the father’s paternity, at any time before the child turns 18. If the mother is deceased, her estate can still pursue a claim. A suit may also be initiated before a child is born, but the court may delay hearing the case until after the birth.
The father of an illegitimate child may also seek a court order legitimizing his child. Legally, this means the father enjoys “all of the lawful parental privileges and rights, as well as all of the obligations” related to the child. A legitimized child also enjoys the same inheritance and succession rights as any child born in wedlock. For example, if the father dies without a will, the legitimized child would receive the same share of the father’s estate as a child born to the father and his spouse.
If the parents of an illegitimate child subsequently marry, the child is automatically legitimized under state law. If the mother is married to another man, the father may still file a petition to legitimize the child. In such cases, the court will appoint a lawyer to represent the child’s interests.
Once a court issues an order legitimizing a child, the court will inform the state, which will then issue a new birth certificate for the child containing the father’s name. If legitimation occurred due to the parents’ marriage, the new certificate will include the father’s last name for the child. If legitimation occurred without marriage, the birth certificate may still give the child the father’s last name if the court so directs.
Note that legitimation is not the same things as establishing paternity. North Carolina law provides separate procedures for having a person legally declared the father of an illegitimate child—thus requiring him to support said child—which does not, by itself, legitimize the child.