Establishing paternity allows both parents to have legal rights with respect to the child, and to support the child in a meaningful way. Establishing paternity can help a father actively contribute to the life of his child, and ensure that the child receives the support necessary to thrive.
Why Establish Paternity
Many people assume that as long as the father’s name is on the child’s birth certificate, the father will have the same parental rights as the mother. This is not always the case. If the child’s parents were not married when the child was born, the father will not have the same parental rights as the mother unless and until paternity is established. An unwed father, even one whose name appears on the child’s birth certificate, does not enjoy full parental rights until he is legally declared to be the child’s father.
Without establishing paternity, a father has no right to child custody or visitation, and visitation rights can be denied by the mother at any time until paternity is established through a court order. Once paternity is established, child custody, visitation, and child support orders may be established.
Types of Legal Paternity
When a married couple has a baby, the baby is presumed to be the child of both the mother and the father. But when the parents are not married, the father does not automatically have a legal relationship with the child. A paternity action can determine who the father is, then address issues of child custody and support.
But paternity laws can be complicated, especially because someone can have legal rights as a father even if they are not the child’s biological father.
The law recognizes different types of paternity:
- A Presumed Father is a man who is married to a woman at the time of the child’s conception or birth, legally agreed to be the father of his wife’s baby, or behaved as if the child was his own.
- An Acknowledged Father is an unmarried man who legally acknowledges that he is the father of the baby.
- An Unwed Father is an unmarried man who conceives a child with a woman.
- A Step-Father is a man who marries a woman who already has a child with another man.
Each of these fathers has legal rights and obligations with respect to the child.
Before paternity is established, the mother often has sole custody of the child unless and until paternity is established. Without establishing paternity, the father has no right to visit the child, make decisions about the child’s well-being or upbringing, or have any custodial rights. If an unmarried father wishes to have a relationship with his child, it is essential to establish paternity.
Once paternity is established, the father and child have a legal right to a relationship. The father or mother may be obligated to provide child support and medical care and the father might be granted custody and visitation.
How to Establish Paternity
For a child’s mother, proof of birth is sufficient to establish the relationship between mother and child.
A man is presumed to be the father of a child if the child is born to his wife, if the child was born within 300 days after termination of the marriage, or if he signed an Acknowledgement of Paternity.
A man can also establish paternity through genetic testing.
Either parent can file a petition to establish paternity. Once the paternity action has been filed, the other parent will be served with court papers and must respond within 30 days.
To be granted paternity rights, the father must establish that he is the biological parent. This can be done through agreement between the parents, or by DNA testing.
The simplest way to establish paternity is by signing an Acknowledgement of Paternity and filing it with the court. Although the Acknowledgement of Paternity is often signed at the hospital when the child is born, even if the father’s name does not appear on the birth certificate and an Acknowledgement of Paternity was not signed at the time of the child’s birth, the Acknowledgement of Paternity can be signed by both parties at any time.
If there is a question about paternity, either party can request DNA testing to determine paternity. If a DNA test is requested, it is important to ensure that the lab conducting the test has been approved by the court.
Refusing to submit to a paternity test can result in penalties and a default judgment being entered against the father.
Once Paternity Has Been Established
Child custody, visitation, and support will not be considered until paternity is established, either by an acknowledgment or through DNA testing. If both parents agree on paternity and a parenting plan, they can submit to the court for approval an agreed order and parenting plan. If the parties cannot agree on custody or a visitation schedule, then each parent can submit a proposed plan to the court.
Once paternity has been established, a father who seeks or expects to be granted less than proportional parenting time with the child should expect to be ordered to pay child support.
Semita Legalis: Professional Guidance for Your Legal Journey
If you need assistance establishing paternity, Semita Legalis can help. A lawyer can advise you on your parental rights and represent you in court if you need to establish or challenge paternity.
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