In some family law cases, establishing paternity is a critical step that will protect the legal rights of parents and ensure that child custody issues can be handled correctly by parents. Paternity refers to the legal recognition of someone as the father of a child. It is important for both mothers and fathers to understand when it is necessary to establish paternity in order to protect their interests and secure the best possible outcome for their children. When addressing issues related to paternity and child custody, it is important to work with an attorney who can provide guidance on how to handle these concerns and legal representation in any court proceedings that may be necessary.
The Importance of Paternity
Establishing paternity provides numerous benefits for both parents and children. Some of these benefits include:
- Legal rights: Once paternity is established, both parents will have legal rights and responsibilities toward their child. A father who is recognized as a child’s legal parent will have the right to reasonable visitation or parenting time, and he may also share decision-making authority regarding the child's upbringing. Parents will also be able to access a child’s medical and school records, and the child will have inheritance rights following the death of either parent.
- Financial support: After paternity is established, both parents will be required to provide financial support for the child. When addressing issues related to child custody, child support orders can be put in place so that the child’s ongoing needs will be met.
- Health history: Children have a right to know about their genetic background, including potential health issues inherited from either parent. A legal relationship with a parent will allow a child to access family medical history, which can ensure that they will be able to receive the proper medical treatment when necessary.
- Social Security benefits: In cases where one parent passes away or becomes disabled, a child may receive Social Security benefits through that parent. Establishing paternity will ensure that the child will be able to access these benefits when necessary.
Paternity Laws in Illinois
In Illinois law, there are two primary ways to establish paternity:
Voluntary Acknowledgment of Paternity (VAP): This method involves signing a form at the time of birth in which both parents voluntarily agree on the identity of the child’s father. This document has significant legal consequences and should not be signed without careful consideration. In most cases, a VAP may be signed in a hospital, but it can also be completed at a later time.
Legal adjudication of paternity: If there is disagreement or doubt about paternity, either parent can file a legal action to establish paternity through court proceedings. In such cases, DNA testing may be required to determine biological fatherhood.
In situations where both parents agree on paternity, signing a Voluntary Acknowledgment of Paternity form is often the simplest and fastest way to establish legal parentage. However, if there is any question about whether a man is a child’s biological father, it may be necessary to obtain confirmation of paternity before signing a VAP.
Cases Where Paternity May Need to Be Established
In general, it is not necessary to establish paternity if parents are married at the time of a child’s birth. A woman’s spouse is presumed to be her child’s legal parent. Paternity will also be presumed if a couple ended their marriage within 300 days before a child was born. However, it may be necessary to establish paternity in other situations, including:
- If parents are unmarried: When a child's parents are unmarried at the time of birth, the father will not be recognized as the child’s legal parent until paternity is established. In these situations, establishing paternity will provide the father with legal rights toward the child.
- Determining child support obligations: Until a father is recognized as a child’s legal parent, he will not have any legal responsibility to support the child. Establishing paternity will ensure that child support orders can be put in place requiring both parents to contribute toward meeting their child’s ongoing needs.
- Gaining custody or visitation rights: A biological father who wishes to share custody of his child or ensure that he will be able to spend time with the child regularly will need to first establish a legal relationship with the child by establishing paternity.
Contact Our Wheaton Paternity Attorneys
If you are an unmarried parent who needs to address issues related to child custody, you will need to understand the best steps to take to establish paternity and address other legal issues related to your child. At Mirabella, Kincaid, Frederick & Mirabella, LLC., our DuPage County paternity lawyers can advise you of your options and help you put child custody and child support orders in place that will provide for your child’s best interests. Contact our firm today at 630-665-7300 to set up a consultation and begin taking steps to resolve your family law concerns.