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.
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.
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*This information is not intended to be legal advice. Please contact Canterbury Law Group today to learn more about your personal legal needs.