The legal term paternity is a complex one that varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. At its core, the word is meant to convey a set of rights and responsibilities that will have the power of the courts backing them up. 

One of the common ways many states use to establish paternity is through a voluntary acknowledgment of paternity, which can then become the base to bring other family law related suits like child support petitions, custody petitions, and suits for visitation rights. So how does a voluntary acknowledgment of paternity work, and what is its effect once file and accepted?

How Do You Get a Voluntary Acknowledgment of Paternity?

A voluntary acknowledgment of paternity is completed through a form that both the mother and the purported father sign, and then file with the proper state office. In most states, this is the vital records office that keeps track of births, deaths, marriages, and divorces. 

The office then puts the acknowledged father’s name on the child’s official birth certificate. The parents can choose to do this at the hospital or wherever the child is born, but can also be completed later. Regardless of when, it must be signed by both the mother and the father.

Who Can Sign a Voluntary Acknowledgment of Paternity?

In many states, if a couple is married, then paternity is assumed to be the mother’s husband and thus the couple has no need of a voluntary acknowledgment of paternity. But for couples who are not married, this is usually the way that the parents establish legal paternity. Although the obvious answer is that only the biological father should sign an acknowledgment, this does not necessarily have to be the case. 

Sometimes the biological father of a child is either out of the picture or unknown, and a man willing to take on both the legal and moral responsibilities of being the child’s father can sign one to formally establish a parental bond with the child. But it is wise to issue a word of caution. 

A voluntary acknowledgment of paternity carries with it all the legal rights and responsibilities that any parent has to their child, including potentially long-lasting financial ones like child support. Once paternity is legalized through an acknowledgment, it can be difficult to withdraw.

What If a Father Refuses to Sign a Voluntary Acknowledgment of Paternity?

If the father of a child refuses to sign a voluntary acknowledgment of paternity, then that does not mean that they can walk away without any obligations. The child’s mother can then choose to file a lawsuit to establish the child’s paternity through a court order, whether he likes it or not. 

The court will order that the alleged father take a state approved DNA test to determine if he indeed the father, and if the results match the DNA of the child, then make those results legal. The mother can then use the results to file further suits to collect child support and resolve any issues concerning custody and visitation rights.

Can Someone Withdraw a Voluntary Acknowledgment of Paternity?

Yes. There are circumstances where a man signs an acknowledgment, only to learn shortly thereafter that they are not the father. For these situations, there is a small time frame after the child is born (usually 60 to 90 days, depending on the jurisdiction), that either the mother or father can withdraw a voluntary acknowledgment of paternity if it becomes clear that the man is not the biological father. 

However, as time passes, it becomes much harder to do so. The legal father must prove that he was the victim of a fraud, material mistake of fact, or duress to withdraw paternity later on in the child’s life. This is not meant to punish the presumed fathers or reward mothers, but to protect the child and make sure they will be taken care of. 

Can Someone Challenge a Voluntary Acknowledgment of Paternity?

So what if another man signs an acknowledgment, but another man believes he is the child’s biological father? Can he challenge the voluntary acknowledgment of paternity? In most states, he cannot. 

Instead, he can file a lawsuit with the appropriate court to establish his legal paternity to trump the voluntary acknowledgment. Here, timing is key as well. The statute of limitations to file such a suit is usually around four to five years (depending on the state) after the acknowledgment is filed. Make sure you check with a licensed attorney in your state to determine the statute of limitations that apply to you.

Do I Need a Lawyer for an Issue with Paternity?

Yes. Because the are complicated and vary from state to state, it is important that if you are facing legal issues surrounding paternity to seek the help of a local family law attorney

They will know what forms you need to fill out as well as the time limitations for filing any suits concerning acknowledging, denying, or establishing legal paternity. They will guide you through the process and be your advocate throughout the process.