All About Paternity
What is "paternity"?
Paternity is essentially fatherhood or being a father. A father contributes one-half of the genetic makeup of his children. DNA testing can be done to determine biological paternity.
What does "establishing paternity" mean?
When a married couple has a child, most state laws automatically recognize the husband as the biological father. If an unmarried couple has a child, state laws do not necessarily recognize the man as the legal, biological father. Establishing paternity means that the father takes legal action to indicate he is the biological father.
Why should I establish paternity?
Legally establishing paternity of a child can help provide social, economic, and emotional ties between a father and his child. You can also ensure the child receives the same rights and privileges as every other child, including inheritance rights, access to the father's medical and life insurance benefits, and access to Social Security and veterans' benefits.
Establishing paternity can give children a chance to develop a relationship with their father. They can develop a sense of identity and connection with their father's family. Additionally, it may be important for children to know their father's medical history, particularly if there is a history of medical conditions in the father's family.
Equally as important as the social and economic benefits, is the child's right to know and form a relationship with both parents. Also, many states will not allow a father's name to be placed on the birth certificate, unless he is married to the child's mother. Establishing paternity will allow the child to have the father's name.
If the child's father or mother decides not to establish paternity, the child will not be entitled to the father's surname, nor will the child receive any benefits.
back to top
How do I establish paternity?
There are several ways you can establish paternity, and we explain a few different ways here. There are more avenues to take than the ones we describe here; if these are not feasible in your situation, refer to your own state laws to determine the best scenario.
Acknowledgement of paternity
Paternity Acknowledgment is the name given to the voluntary process of the unwed father being recognized as the biological father of a child (or children), primarily for child support purposes. This is usually signed at the hospital after the child is delivered. Every state has different laws, but basically, when the mother signs the acknowledgement she is verifying that she was unwed at the time of the birth and that the named man is the biological father of the child. When the father signs the acknowledgement, he agrees that he is the biological father of the child and that he will be responsible for the child's financial and medical support until adulthood. A Paternity Acknowledgement is usually for child support purposes, and the rights pertaining to visitation and custody vary.
Most states allow a certain period of time (a few days) after the birth of the child before the Acknowledgement of Paternity has to be signed. If you have any doubts about paternity, you can test the child after birth because it is easy and painless.
An acknowledgement of paternity may also be called Declaration of Paternity (DOP), Recognition of Paternity (ROP), Paternity Establishment, Paternity Opportunity Program (POP), and A Simple Acknowledgment of Paternity (ASAP Program).
Individual states have developed a set of circumstances that, if met, automatically presumes paternity. The most common circumstance is known as the Mansfield Rule. Essentially, this rule states that if a child is conceived within marriage, the husband is presumed to be the father. Since this presumption is not always correct, some states have introduced legislation to challenge or rebut this presumption.
In some states, paternity can be established by default. Conditions vary, but essentially, if a man does not fulfill certain obligations, he will be named as the legal father of the child(ren). For example, in Illinois, paternity can be established by default when an alleged father fails to attend a scheduled interview or to go for a scheduled genetic test and has been properly served with a notice to appear.
The judicial process is used when the alleged father refuses to acknowledge paternity. This process can also be used when a mother does not acknowledge the paternity of a man who believes he is the child’s father.
With the legal recognition of paternity through the court, the father is responsible for the monetary support of the child according to the state’s child support guidelines. The father will also have the right to visitation.
back to top
What are states doing about paternity and child support issues?
The question of how long a man has to challenge paternity differs from state to state. Some states will hear evidence only within two years of a child's birth; others allow as much as five years. Ohio, Colorado, Iowa and Louisiana all have laws which allow men to be released from child support requirements if DNA testing proves they are not the biological father of the children named in support awards. Similar legislation has been introduced in New Jersey.
In Maryland, in several cases involving unmarried men who had previously acknowledged paternity, the state's highest court has ruled that there is no time limit on their right to use genetic testing to prove non-paternity.
There is no clear estimate of how many families in the United States are questioning their biological makeup, but the individual cases that have brought national attention to the issue are heart wrenching.
One court case that made it into the spotlight was from Texas. In 2001, a man was ordered to continue child support payments for three children born during his marriage that were not biologically his. He discovered he was not the father of the three boys because the youngest suffered from cystic fibrosis, a genetic disease caused by recessive genes (both parents have to be carriers). He was tested to see which cystic fibrosis gene he carried, but was surprised to find out that he was not a carrier at all. The case was taken all the way to the Supreme Court where they declined to hear the case.
Paternity cases continue to be tried in court, and the controversy about paying child support remains. DNA testing can provide clear and definitive proof about the paternity of a child, and it can be important to request a paternity test early in the child's life, so as not to disrupt the child after years of financial and emotional support.
back to top
What should I do if I am not sure the child is mine?
If there is any doubt as to whether you are the biological father of the child, request a paternity test before you sign any paperwork. In some states, after you sign a Paternity Acknowledgement, you are legally responsible for the child, meaning you are obligated to take care of financial expenses, health insurance, and emotional needs.
To learn more about paternity testing, read All About Paternity Testing.
|Click on the logos below to visit DNA company websites.