When a child is born to a married couple, a legal presumption arises that the husband is the child’s father. This isn’t the case with unmarried couples. Establishing paternity is important for unmarried couples in the event they break up and one parent seeks custody or child support for inheritance purposes or a variety of other circumstances. If the parents get married after the mother becomes pregnant but before birth, the husband’s paternity is established in the same manner as if the parents were married at the time of conception.
But sometimes paternity is established after birth, especially when the presumptive father has denied paternity. Read on for a detailed look at the chronology of establishing paternity.
Establishing Paternity After Birth
If the parents marry after the child is born, they can sign a legitimation form (or a Declaration of Paternity), which grants the same rights as if the parents were married at the time of birth.
Even if parents never marry, paternity can be established voluntarily when the parents are certain of the father’s identity. In such cases they may sign a legal form called a voluntary acknowledgment of paternity, or something similar, and then file the form with the court or appropriate state agency. Executing this voluntary acknowledgment can be done right in the hospital following the child’s birth, or any time thereafter. The father’s name is then included on the child’s birth certificate.
Even if a voluntary acknowledgment isn’t signed, the parties may later enter into an agreement with the help and advice of their attorneys that establishes the father’s identity and resolves custody and support issues.
Filing a Paternity Lawsuit
If neither of these voluntary procedures occurs, legal action may be necessary. A mother may file a paternity action to establish that the man she believes to be her child’s father in fact is, or, if the mother is receiving public assistance, the state may initiate the action in order for the child to begin receiving support from the father. The putative, or probable, father’s presence in court will be demanded, and he may be required to submit to DNA testing if he contests his paternity. Genetic blood test results are usually available within a few weeks, and they can establish (or negate) paternity with about 99 percent accuracy.
If paternity is established in this manner, the court will enter an order regarding the father’s paternity. The father then becomes legally obligated to pay child support according to the state’s guidelines, which are generally based on both parents’ incomes and the needs of the children.
Settling Before the Verdict
At any time in this process prior to entry of the court’s order, the parties may still enter into a settlement agreement that resolves the custody and financial issues relating to the child. In most instances, it will be the father that is legally required to provide financial support to his children. One alternative option that is sometimes pursued, however, is to offer the mother a lump-sum child support payment in exchange for her agreement to not pursue additional child support in the future. While this would give the mother the advantage of having a lump sum with which a major purchase, such as a home, could be accomplished, it has many potential disadvantages as well. It is also exceedingly rare for the courts to rule this way.
Once paternity has been established, the child obtains many legal rights beyond child support. The child can inherit from their father, is eligible for health insurance coverage under the father’s group policy, and is entitled to Social Security benefits if the father dies or becomes disabled. They also may be entitled to wrongful death benefits if the father dies as a result of someone else’s negligence, can obtain medical history information, and may reap the emotional benefits of establishing paternity.
Adoption and the Father
In all states, the birth mother and the birth father hold the primary right of consent to adoption of their child. However, for a father to hold this right, he must first establish paternity. A father may also have this right terminated for reasons including abandonment, failure to support the child, mental incompetence, or a finding of parental unfitness due to abuse or neglect.
Adoption proceedings can differ depending on the state in which you reside. States have different rules with respect to waiting periods, and in the case of older children, may have rules regarding the child’s consent and potential counseling. An attorney can work with you through the adoption process or in challenging an adoption.
This can be a complex area of the law that requires knowledge and experience to navigate. Your attorney will understand your state’s adoption statutes and what is required of you, whether first establishing paternity in order to challenge the adoption, or in providing legal consent.
Terminating Your Parental Rights
Generally, parents have the right to determine their child’s care and custody and to educate their child. In general, parental rights are terminated on an individual basis and in a voluntary or involuntary manner. The procedure for termination of parental rights can be very challenging and can vary from state to state. A fathers’ rights attorney will know what is required for termination in your state and help you through the process.
An involuntary termination occurs when one parent seeks to legally sever the rights of the other parent. Involuntary termination can also occur without either parent’s consent when a state agency initiates legal proceedings to terminate the rights of both parents for adoption. In seeking involuntary termination the parent or agency generally considers abandonment of the child, failure to support the child, child abuse, whether the parent is in jail, and other factors weighing in favor of termination.
If you’re subject to an involuntary termination, your attorney will help you gather the proper documents and paperwork proving your fitness to retain your rights. Being a party to an involuntary termination is a very difficult situation and your attorney will advocate on your behalf so that your rights aren’t wrongly terminated.
Child Support, Visitation, and Custody for the Father
Once paternity is established, a father may be required to pay child support and can pursue child visitation or other custody rights. An attorney understands what’s required in these situations and can work with you through the processes.
Orders of child support are issued by the family court and are based on state child support guidelines. The court can deviate from these guidelines if there are valid reasons for doing so. If you move to a different state while subject to a child support order, you may fall under the Revised Uniform Reciprocal Enforcement of Support Act, by which states recognize and ensure payment of child support orders from another state. Your attorney can work for you to obtain the best possible result in the entry of a child support order.
An attorney can also help you negotiate and draft a parenting agreement that considers primary custody, visitation, education, health care, and changes to the parenting arrangement. Your lawyer can help you to reach an agreement that is equitable and that will be approved in court. If an agreement can’t be reached, a contested hearing may be requested. In this case, your attorney will advocate on your behalf to obtain a result that’s respectful of your rights as a parent and in the best interests of your child.
Get Legal Assistance With Your Paternity Matter
Establishing paternity is an important part of the court system as it’s one way to protect children and enforce the legal responsibilities of parents. The process for establishing paternity can differ among the various states.
In order to understand the laws of your state and how they may apply to your situation, you should consider speaking with an experienced family law attorney today.
Speak With Our Father’s Rights Attorneys In Scottsdale
Our Father’s Rights, child custody, and guardianship attorneys in Phoenix and Scottsdale address your case with concern and personal attention, and always have you and your children’s best interest in mind when offering legal solutions.
We are experienced family law attorneys and will work with you to obtain the best possible outcome in your situation. You can trust us to represent you fully, so you can get on with your life. Call today for an initial consultation! 480-744-7711.
*This information is not intended to be legal advice. Please contact Canterbury Law Group today to learn more about your personal legal needs.