What is Paternity?
Paternity means fatherhood. When a married woman gives birth, her husband is presumed to be the father of the child. When a child is born outside of marriage, the father of the child does not automatically have the same rights and responsibilities as the father of a child born in marriage. The law allows the mother, child, father or State to legally establish that a man is the father of a child. When this occurs, the child's paternity has been established.
Why is it important to establish paternity?
Paternity establishment is important for many reasons. Some include:
SUPPORT: The law requires both parents to support their child. This is true even when parents are not married to each other.
CITIZENSHIP: Parents provide the child with citizenship and/or nationality. If one parent was not born in the United States, his/her place of origin may provide important rights to the child.
BENEFITS: Without paternity establishment, a child is not legally entitled to any of his/her father's benefits including: Social Security insurance benefits, inheritance rights, veteran's and other benefits.
RIGHTS: When paternity is established, the father has the same rights as a father of a child in a marriage. These include such rights as the ability to address custody and visitation issues with the court, and to give other input into decisions regarding the child.
How can unmarried parents establish paternity?
There are two ways:
The mother, father, child or the State may file a legal action to declare that a man is the father of a child who was born outside of a marriage. This can be done judicially (in court) or administratively and normally involves genetic testing.
Parents can sign a Voluntary Declaration of Paternity form and file this declaration with the Department of Health, Vital Records and Statistics. When a Voluntary Declaration of Paternity form is signed by the child's mother AND father, and the form is witnessed by two individuals that are not related to you and filed with Vital Records and Statistics, paternity is established. If the father is under 18, his parent or guardian must also sign the form.
How do I know if I should sign a Voluntary Declaration of Paternity?
A mother or father of a child born outside of marriage is not required to sign a Voluntary Declaration of Paternity. If the Declaration is signed, it is legally binding on the mother and the father. A Voluntary Declaration should not be signed if: The mother is married, her husband is not the father of the child and the husband, the mother and the father of the child are not all willing to sign the Voluntary Declaration form;The mother or alleged father is not certain the alleged father is the child's father; or either parent does not understand the legal consequences of signing the form
Is there a deadline for signing a Voluntary Declaration of Paternity form?
No. Although the forms are provided at the time of a child's birth for parents to sign, the forms may be signed at any time after the birth of a child. However, as long as both parents voluntarily agree to sign the form, there are benefits to signing at the time of the birth of the child. If the forms are filled out in the hospital or other facility where the birth occurred, the staff of the facility will file the completed form with the birth certificate information. Also, the only way to get the father's name added to the original birth certificate when the parents are unmarried is to have the form transmitted with the birth certificate for registration. If parents obtain the form at a later date, they must file the form with the Department of Health, Vital Records and Statistics.
What if I change my mind after signing the form?
You typically have up to 60 days or until the date a child support order is established, whichever is earlier, to rescind (or nullify) the Voluntary Declaration of Paternity form. Rescissions are handled by the Department of Health, Vital Records and Statistics. When one parent requests a rescission, the other parent will be notified by mail at the address listed on the Voluntary Declaration of Paternity form. This notice will explain the effect of the rescission and the procedures that must be followed if the parents would like to change the child's name as a result of the rescission. When a Voluntary Declaration of Paternity form is rescinded, it will be as though it never existed and the father's name will be removed from the child's birth certificate. If you are a father under the age of 18, your parent or guardian must also sign the rescission documents. Please keep in mind that although a rescission nullifies the Voluntary Declaration of Paternity document, paternity can still be established in the future by other means as mentioned earlier.
If someone says you are the father of a child, how can you make sure that you really are?
You should not sign the Voluntary Declaration of Paternity form if you have any doubts about whether you are the father of a child. There are very accurate genetic tests available which will absolutely exclude you if you are not the father. If you have an open child support case, you may request genetic testing (sometimes at no charge) at any time before paternity and a child support order are established.
Do persons under age 18 have to worry about paternity and child support?
Yes. Minors can still be named the father of a child and may be ordered to pay child support. The law bases child support amounts on the parents' incomes but even without income, a teen could be ordered to pay a monthly child support amount.
If you are involved in a Paternity matter, or are seeking to determine the parternity of your child's father, please feel free to Contact Us and speak with one of our experienced Family Law Attorneys. We will listen to your story, answer your questions, discuss your options, and get you pointed in the right direction.