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FAQ - Paternity Questions and Answers

father establishes “legal paternity” he does not have any rights or responsibilities to a child born to an unwed mother; even if he knows the child is his!

  1. What does “paternity” mean?
  2. How can the paternity of a child be established?
  3. How do I get listed as the father on my baby’s birth certificate?
  4. What if the mother and I want to establish paternity as soon as the baby is born?
  5. Can I establish paternity without going to court?
  6. I signed a Paternity form but I am not 18 yet, am I still the legal father?
  7. What if I am an undocumented immigrant, never married to the mother but want to be declared the legal father?
  8. What if I signed an Acknowledgment of Paternity but no longer think I'm the father?
  9. What if don't think I'm the father but the mother insists that I am?
  10. Why is it important for a mother to have paternity established legally?
  11. What happens during court paternity case?
  12. Is it possible to establish paternity without going to court?
  13. How accurate does the genetic test have to be before a court orders paternity?
  14. What if I know it's my child but the mother refuses me visitations?
  15. Can someone adopt my child without my permission if I'm not married to the mother?
  16. Besides registering with the paternity registry, what else should I do to make sure my parental rights are not terminated?
  17. Why should an unwed father establish legal paternity?
  18. What are the legal consequences of establishing paternity for an unwed father?

Up 1. What does “paternity” mean?

Both legally and biologically, the word paternity means the identity of the father of a child. Unless paternity is established, a child born to an unwed mother has no legal father so, even if you know the child is yours, until you establish “legal paternity” you do have any rights or responsibilities as the child’s father.

On the other hand, a man married to a woman when a child is born is presumed to be the legal father of the child and automatically receives all rights or responsibilities

Up 2. How can the paternity of a child be established?

There are two primary ways to establish paternity.

  1. Through a court proceeding; or
  2. Both parents sign an “Acknowledgment of Paternity” document that legally establishes paternity.

CAUTION! Do not voluntarily acknowledge paternity unless you are sure that you are the father of the child! Your decision has far-reaching affect on your child support obligations and visitation rights and a multitude of choices (schools, religion, and college, medical, dental and so forth) that will have to be made as the child grows up.

Note: A genetic test is the best way to be sure that you are the biological father of the child. You have the right to insist on such a test. If you request the test or a court orders the test and you are the father then you pay for the test, but if the court orders it and you are not the father then the court pays for the test.

WARNING! The federal government has set a goal of establishing paternity for at least 90 percent of all children born out of wedlock. Therefore, alleged fathers, particularly those who cannot afford legal advice, should be aware that:

  1. If you fail to respond, the court will decide your paternity or child support case without your input.
  2. If you disagree with a decision made by an administrative child support officer, you may have the right to have a judge address the issue.
  3. You have the right to know the child support officer’s name, title, and amount of power he or she has to make or change decisions.
  4. You have the right to understand the consequences of signing a document before signing it.
  5. Although you are the legal father of a child, you do not automatically get visitation or custody rights until you get a court order granting them.
  6. It's extremely important to make child support payments on time and consistently, even if the amount you pay is below the order amount.
  7. At some point you may need have prove how much child support you've paid so keep accurate records of all support payments until the child reaches the age of majority for your state.
  8. You can influence the court on the amount of child support it orders by providing written proof of your financial situation.
  9. Whenever you become unemployed or you experience a reduced income, you have the right to request a review and adjustment of your child support payment from your child support caseworker.
  10. Avoiding paying child support is likely to make your situation worse.

Up 3. How do I get listed as the father on my baby’s birth certificate?

If you were married to the mother when the child was born, you are automatically entered on the birth certificate as the father. If you were not married to the mother when the child was born, there are two ways to have your name added to the birth certificate:

  1. By voluntarily signing an “Acknowledgment of Paternity” form; or
  2. By a court order.

Up 4. What if the mother and I want to establish paternity as soon as the baby is born?

If the mother is not married, you can establish paternity in the hospital just before or right after the baby is born by both of you signing an Acknowledgment of Paternity form. Afterwards, you can be held responsible for child support and you have the right to seek a court order for visitation or custody.

Up 5. Can I establish paternity after birth certificate is a matter of record without going to court?

Yes, if you and the child’s mother voluntarily sign an Acknowledgment of Paternity form. The Bureau of Vital Statistics usually charges a small fee to change the birth certificate.

Up 6. I signed an Acknowledgment of Paternity form but I am not 18 yet, am I still considered the legal father of the child?

Most states allow minors to voluntarily sign an Acknowledgment of Paternity form under their “Voluntary Acknowledgment Laws” thus you can be considered the legal father even though you signed the form before the age of 18.

Up 7. What can I do if I want to be declared the legal father of my child but I am an undocumented immigrant who was never married to the mother of my child?

To be declared the legal father of your child, born in this country, you and the mother of the child can sign an Acknowledgment of Paternity form and then have the birth certificate updated through the Bureau of Vital Statistics (small fee applies).

Up 8. What if I signed the Acknowledgment of Paternity form but now believe I am not the father?

In most states, there is a time limit (usually 60-90 days) where you can for withdraw your name from the Acknowledgment of Paternity form by filing a legal document known as a Petition to Rescind. As long as you are not part of a court case to decide paternity, the court will declare that you are not the father.

However, if the baby’s mother receives welfare benefits, the State must also agree that you are not the father. If there is not an agreement, the court may order a genetic test to settle the matter.

If the time limit (60-90 days) has passed, you will have to go to court and file a lawsuit to contest the voluntary Acknowledgment of Paternity which generally requires proof that the document was signed under one of three conditions:

  1. Fraud: someone lied in signing the document;
  2. Duress: you were forced to sign; or
  3. Mistake of fact: you thought one thing and another thing is true.

Also, most states have a statute of limitations on filing a lawsuit to contest voluntary Acknowledgment of Paternity, generally 4 years but check with your State Attorney General’s office to be sure.

Up 9. What if don't think I'm the father but the mother insists that I am?

Assuming you were not married at the time the child was born, the mother, child, or government can sue to establish paternity. Refusing to appear in court after being served for a paternity hearing may cause the court to declare you to be the father of the child and order you to pay child support.

Up 10. Why is it important for a mother to have paternity established legally?

Assuming the father refuses to sign an Acknowledgment of Paternity, the mother should establish who the legal father is because in order to receive child support from the father or financial assistance from the state. Also, having a legal determination helps establish visitation and custody rights.

Note: If the mother fails to cooperate in helping the State establish paternity, the state is likely to decrease the amount of support that it gives her.

Up 11. What happens during court paternity case?

First, the father receives a document from the court notifying him to appear at the paternity hearing. If you are accused of being the father, be sure to read and understand everything in this document!

During the court hearing, one of three situations can occur:

  1. The male admits to paternity! In this case, the court enters a judgment and orders child support to begin immediately. (In some cases, support may be ordered at a later hearing).
  2. The male denies paternity! In this case, the court will order a paternity test that the mother, child and accused male must take. Failing to take a court-ordered paternity test may result in the court holding that person in contempt.
  3. The male denies paternity but there is sufficient proof to prove the male is the father! In this case, the court enters a default judgment declaring him the father and ordering child support to begin immediately.

Note: The court is supposed to provide an interpreter at no charge for any male who does not speak English, or is deaf.

Up 12. Is it possible to establish paternity without going to court?

Paternity and child support can be set administratively through a state’s Child Support Review Process. If the male has not acknowledged paternity, he has the right to ask for a genetic test. If the test is positive and the mother and father can agree on custody and visitation then no one has to appear in court.

Up 13. How accurate does the genetic test have to be before a court orders paternity?

The test must indicate a 99 percent or better chance that the accused male is the father before the court will legally declare him the father. The male can still protest, but has the burden of proving his case to the court.

Up 14. What if I know it's my child but the mother refuses me visitations?

If you are not married to the mother of your child and paternity has not been established, you can file a petition with the court requesting that you be declared the child’s legal father. Ask your State Attorney General’s Child Support Division to begin the court process by requesting a genetic test for the mother, the child, and yourself. The results of these tests will be a part of the paternity trial and if the court determines you are the legal father of the child, you will be responsible for child support. You will also have the right to request custody or visitation orders from the court.

Up 15. I am not married to the mother of my child; can someone adopt my child without my permission?

If you have not legally established paternity by filing an Acknowledgment of Paternity or had a court determine that you are the father of the child, then you must do so promptly to avoid losing your rights. Register with your state’s registry of paternity located at the Bureau of Vital Statistics before the baby is born or no later than 31 days after the birth of the child. There is no charge for registering.

WARNING! Failure to protect your rights by registering can lead to termination of your parental rights. Also, if you are not registered then, unless you filed a paternity suit prior to termination of your parental rights, you will not be notified of a potential adoption.

Up 16. Besides registering with the paternity registry, is there anything else that I need to do to make sure that my parental rights are not terminated?

Keep the paternity registry informed any time there is a change in any of the information you provided to the registry, especially your address and phone number.

Up 17. Why should an unwed father establish legal paternity?

Until legally declared the father, he has no legal rights concerning the child and the court is not obligated to consider his visitation and custody wishes. Establishing paternity also helps a child who might be entitled to Social Security, veteran’s or health insurance benefits.

Up 18. What are the legal consequences of establishing paternity for an unwed father?

He will be required to pay child support and, in some cases, may be responsible for some of the costs of the mother’s pregnancy, the child’s health care expenses, retroactive child support, and other associated costs.

Once paternity is established and child support ordered, failure to pay can result is penalties against a father. Some of these penalties include:

  • Posting his picture in private and public locations and in the news;
  • Revoking his driver’s license;
  • Taking his tax refunds;
  • Denying occupational licenses;
  • Denying state loans or grants;
  • Referring him to private collection agencies;
  • Reporting him to a consumer reporting agency
  • Require him to pay interest on past due support (rates are set by state law)
  • Arresting him and placing him in jail.