Common Legal Issues Surrounding Establishing Paternity
When a couple that is not married has a child, it is very important for them to establish paternity as soon as possible. The definition of paternity simply is “the state of being a father” and establishing paternity shortly after the child is born helps to protect the child, the mother and, most importantly the father, should the couple ever have to go to court to work out a custody or visitation agreement. Additionally, having paternity established helps a father to receive the benefits to which he is entitled.
Both parents are legally responsible for their child regardless of their relationship status. Whether the couple is married, separated, divorced, or not even a couple, they are responsible for the upbringing, support, and protection of their child. Should the father of the child not want the child or ended the relationship before the child was born, he is still partially responsible for the child’s support. This is when paternity is important to make sure the mother of the child gets the financial support she needs.
Process of Naming a Child and Receiving a Birth Certificate
In many states, parents can give their child any first, middle, and last name they want to – the child does not have to have the mother’s or father’s last name to be considered a “legitimate.” The process of naming the child and receiving a birth certificate for that child is relatively straight forward – when the child is born, a hospital social worker or representative from the health department will meet with the mother at the hospital. The social worker or representative will ask for the following information:
- Child’s name
- Mother’s legal name
- Father’s legal name
- Health background of both parents
- Father’s occupation
The social worker or representative will include this information on a form, which will then act as the basis for a birth certificate that will be issued by the state. Although this birth certificate will list both parents’ names, it will not make any indication of whether or not the parents are married.
Although the mother will be asked to give a father’s name, she does not have to do so. In some cases, mothers do not wish to list the father’s name or they may be unsure who the father is. Even if a father is not listed at the time of the child’s birth, it is possible to update the birth certificate at a later date to include that information. The Bureau of Vital Statistics or Department of Health has a process for adding a father’s name and unmarried fathers will need to sign an acknowledgment of paternity.
Naming a Father and Establishing Paternity
The easiest way for a couple to establish paternity of a child is for the father to be named on the child’s birth certificate. According to regulations from the United States of Department of Health and Human Services, all states must give unwed parents the opportunity to establish paternity of a child by signing an acknowledgment voluntarily. In many states, hospital personnel with make an extra effort to encourage the father to sign the birth certificate in order to cut down on the number of mothers on welfare – by having two parents responsible for the child, additional support should not be needed.
While some states allow the mother to name a father without him being present, other states such as California will only allow an unwed father to establish paternity by signing a voluntary declaration – the mother cannot have the father’s name put on the birth certificate without the father being present. A voluntary declaration of paternity that is signed by both parents has the same legal weight as any court order, meaning the father’s parental responsibilities are firmly in place when the form is submitted.
Preparing a Paternity Statement
If both the mother and father are present at the hospital and there is a level of certainty that the father is indeed the father of the child, it is unlikely that the couple will leave the hospital without having the father listed on the birth certificate or having signed an acknowledgment of paternity. If for some reason one of these two things do not happen, it is essential that the couple prepare and sign either an official state paternity or informal paternity statement in order to have the father listed on the birth certificate.
- Official State Paternity Statement: All states have an official paternity acknowledgement form that a father can voluntarily sign in order to establish paternity. The time a father has to sign this form and establish paternity of the child will vary from state to state – some states have a time limit while others do not. A father’s signature on this acknowledgment form acts as a court order to establish a relationship between the father and the child.
- Informal Paternity Statement: Given the father does not sign a paternity acknowledgement at the hospital or use the state’s official form, it is possible to create an informal paternity statement on his own. Sample Acknowledgment of Parenthood forms can be found online and this model can be used to include both parents’ names and then be signed by both parents. Two copies of this form should be prepared and both should also be notarized. These forms will come in handy should the father die and the mother need to establish paternity of their child.
Legal Problems Surrounding Paternity
In most cases, any legal problems that arise regarding paternity of a child are set forth by a need for child support. What many men do not realize is that simply not signing the birth certificate of acknowledgement of paternity form will not get them out of the responsibility of being a father. Should a father refuse to sign a paternity statement voluntarily, legal action will be taken to establish paternity in a court of law where a court ordered child support arrangement will also be made.
On the other side of these legal disputes are fathers who are seeking to exercise their parental rights, either to gain visitation with their child or even be granted custody. If the father was named on the birth certificate or if he signed the voluntary paternity statement, his rights should be well established should any legal issues arise. Although courts have traditionally sided with mothers in child support and custody matters, more and more states are upholding father’s rights, especially for those fathers who are making a consistent, honest effort to have a meaningful relationship with their child.
Paternity Acknowledgment When a Man is Not the Father
While establishing paternity is very important, doing so without knowing for certain whether or not the man truly is the father is risky. If a man is unsure if he is the father or knows for a fact that he is not, he should not sign the voluntary paternity statement. By signing this statement, he will then take on the financial responsibilities for a child that may not be his, including paying child support should an arrangement be made. Additionally, should the biological father come back into the situation and establish his paternity by DNA test, it is possible for the man to lose his paternity rights altogether.
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