Establishing paternity is an important step in securing rights as a father to your child. Each state varies in terms of what men can do to be considered the father of a child, so be sure to check with your state’s Department of Human Services or Vital Statistics for what specifically applies to your situation. Keep in mind that states use different terms for their departments or court orders, so what happens in one state will not be exactly the same as in other states. The Centers for Disease Control can link you to your state’s department if you are unsure of who to contact.
Why Does Establishing Paternity Matter?
Establishing paternity helps a child learn who they are. This can be important for medical reasons, as many disorders are genetic. Additionally, establishing paternity ensures your child is entitled to benefits, such as inheritance, Social Security or insurance benefits. Acknowledging the child’s background allows for financial, emotional, and physical support from both parents to make sure the child has the best life possible. In some states, paternity must be established before the father can sign the birth certificate. Without formally establishing paternity, it may be more difficult to obtain rights as a parent later on. During custody proceedings, having paternity already established shows more of a commitment to the process. Finally, establishing paternity allows for custody rights should something happen to the other parent or if the child is subject to familial kidnapping.
What Can I Do Establish Paternity Before a Baby is Born?
If a couple is married the spouse of the mother is considered the legal father. Some states also assume an ex-spouse is the father after a certain number of days following a divorce. In the cases of unwed couples, the process should be started as soon as possible (even before the baby is born) to avoid additional paperwork and legal issues. Some states may not allow for submission before birth, but stating the paperwork early can save time after birth.
How Do I Add Myself as the Father After Birth?
In California, the father and mother must sign and submit a Declaration of Paternity stating that he is the biological father of the child. A notary public or qualified witness must witness the signing and fill out the final section of the form. Notary publics can be found at banks, post offices, and courthouses. There can be a time limit on when these forms need to be submitted, so make sure you get this document completely soon after birth. Some states allow for a father to sign the birth certificate if he is present at birth
What if I’m Not Sure if I Am the Biological Father?
While you can rescind a Declaration of Paternity, this can create additional legal issues. Additionally, there are time limits as to when you can submit this declaration. Before signing a Declaration of Paternity (or similar document outside of California), be absolutely sure that you are the biological father to the child.
What if I Signed an Acknowledgement of Paternity, but Now I Have Doubts About Being the Father?
Either parent can rescind paternity after submitting your acknowledgement by submitting a Declaration of Paternity Rescission (or similar document outside of California.) You also need to contact the other person who signed the original paternity declaration that you are filing to rescind it. Depending on your state, you may need to also have proof of mailing a copy of the rescission form using certified or receipt mail.
What Kind of Testing or Procedure Do I Need to Follow to Establish Whether or Not I Am the Biological Father?
Generally, the DNA test for establishing paternity uses swab samples from inside the cheek. The mother, the child, and the father all have saliva samples taken. You may have your picture taken, to ensure the tests are being done on the correct people. Then, the samples and photographs are sent to a laboratory for analysis. Results usually arrive about three weeks after submission. You may get results in the mail rather than over the phone to provide confidentiality. While at-home kits for testing exist, many courts will not accept these results. If there is doubt as to who the father of a child is, testing is vital to settling claims and securing the child’s support system.
What if the Mother Disagrees That I Am the Father?
If there is disagreement about the father’s identity, either parent can request genetic testing by filing a motion to the court.
Who Has to Pay for Testing?
This varies state to state. In some cases, the father must pay, but is reimbursed by the state if he is not shown to be the father. If the state orders testing, then the state usually pays for the testing. If one of the parties disagrees with the first test, they can pay to have a second test administered. Be sure to contact your state’s welfare agency to see what your options are.
What if I Refuse to Acknowledge Paternity?
Refusing to acknowledge your paternity can result in a paternity suit, which will require additional time and energy for court proceedings. Cooperating with all agencies, attorneys, and other officials will go a long way toward securing your rights as a parent and can avoid stress on all parties involved, including your child. At this point, genetic testing may be court ordered.
What if I Live in a Different State Than the Mother and Child?
A child support specialist or a court order can request help from the agencies of other states to locate the father. Alternatively, you can contact a local child support or human services agency to establish a connection between interstate agencies. Working with a child services caseworker will also give you a better idea as to what you can do.
Once Paternity Is Established, How Is Custody Decided?
Once paternity is established, the parents can then go on to family court to establish custody and visitation routines. At this point, consulting a family law attorney may be beneficial for all parties to ensure a fair split of responsibilities and care for the child.
The process of establishing paternity can seem overwhelming, but there are resources to assist you. Above all, remember that following set legal procedures is the best route, and that providing a loving and caring experience for your child is your main goal.