There are many crucial reasons why it is important to establish paternity. Paternity is considered the legal relationship between a father and his child. If the mother of a child is or was married or in a civil union when the child was born or within 300 days before the child was born, the person the mother was married to or in a civil union with during that time is legally presumed to be the father of the child. Check your local state laws on this presumption for more accurate information.
Moreover, your child deserves all of the advantages in life that two parents can offer. Below are some special reasons to establish paternity:
- Benefits For Your Child: Your child may be eligible for some benefits because you have established paternity. These benefits may include Social Security, veteran’s benefits, health insurance, life insurance, and inheritance. Establishing paternity ensures you can provide for your child even when the unexpected occurs;
- Family Medical History: Being aware of the family’s full history of diseases, illnesses, and birth defects will assist your doctor if your child becomes ill. It is important to know the father’s medical history for this reason; and
- Child Support: Your child needs and deserves both emotional and financial support from both parents. A court cannot order child support without legal proof of paternity. It is easier to obtain that proof today than to wait.
In most states, establishing paternity (fatherhood) can become challenging in the legal world because being the “legal” father can be distinctly different from being the “biological” father. Fatherhood is determined first by marriage. Although all states have differing laws for establishing paternity, most state laws state that if a married woman gives birth to a child, the husband is the “legal” father.
There are three ways to establish paternity:
- Both parents complete, sign, and have a Voluntary Acknowledgement of Paternity (VAP) form witnessed and filed with the Department of Healthcare and Family Services (HFS);
- An Administrative Paternity Order is established and entered by HFS’ Child Support Services; or
- An Order of Paternity is established and entered in court judicially.
Therefore, a simple way for parents to establish paternity is to complete a VAP form at the hospital when the child is born. Parents can request hospital staff for a VAP when providing information for the child’s birth certificate. Hospital staff can also assist parents in completing this form.
What is the Affidavit of Parentage?
There are variations to the Affidavit of Parentage depending on the state you reside in. For instance, according to the Maryland Department of Health Services, after your baby is born, you can encourage the father to start the paternity process by signing the Affidavit of Parentage while you are still in the hospital. This action will allow the father’s name to be placed on the birth certificate.
You can also take the form home with you, complete it and send it back to the Division of Vital Records. If you choose to take the form home, each parent must sign the Affidavit in the presence of a notary public. Keep in mind that you can establish paternity using an Affidavit up until your child’s 18th birthday.
Moreover, signing the Affidavit is considered a choice. Once it is signed, it becomes a legal finding of paternity. An Affidavit of Parentage cannot be executed if the mother was married at the time of conception or birth of the child. An Affidavit should not be executed unless the mother is certain that there is only one possible father of the child. It is important to note that before signing the Affidavit, the person named as the father has the right to request a genetic test or consult an attorney.
Furthermore, you can sign the Affidavit even if you are under the age of eighteen without getting permission from an adult or legal guardian. The Voluntary Acknowledgement of Paternity (VAP) is a legal document that is used to establish paternity for unwed parents. Once the VAP is completed and filed with HFS, it will be used to have the father’s name added to the child’s birth certificate. If parents decide to take the VAP home to complete, both parents must read the instructions and parents’ rights and responsibilities on the back of the form or call. A VAP can be completed, signed, witnessed, and filed at any time for any child.
What is a Legal Paternity Test?
According to the DNA Testing on legal paternity, a paternity test compares the DNA of the child, mother, and alleged father to establish whether the man is, or is not, the biological father of a child. Paternity tests are simple and accurate. A DNA sample is obtained by swabbing the inside of a person’s cheek. Each state’s Child Support Services will assist in completing the appropriate forms, and scheduling paternity tests.
To prove paternity for court purposes, a legal paternity test is necessary. A legal paternity test requires a chain-of-custody process whereby a third-party collector verifies participating individuals’ identities, witnesses DNA collection, and then sends the samples directly to the testing laboratory. This process guarantees that no party has tampered with samples and prevents any other fraudulent activities. Once results are received at the lab, the DNA from the father, child, and sometimes the mother is compared and results are released to the participants.
At the same time, there are rules for maintaining a chain of custody. At no time is a participant permitted to touch or handle the DNA collection kit or its contents. Samples must be collected, processed, and mailed by an unrelated neutral third party. Generally, all participants must be identified photographically using a state or federal-issued ID and a photo must be taken at the time of testing.
Participants must provide written consent. Legal guardians may sign for minors. DNA samples must be completed in a state-of-the-art DNA Laboratory accredited by the AABB. All these steps must be followed by the participants and the unrelated third party (sample collector) for the test to be considered legal.
What is the Process for Getting a Court Order Establishing Paternity?
All states have a process for getting a court order to establish paternity. For example, in the state of Minnesota the courts, the parent, or the county attorney files papers to begin a paternity case in the local District Court where the child or the other party resides. If either parent receives public assistance for the child, the county attorney will start the paternity case. The law permits this so that the county can request that the other parent be ordered to financially support his child.
In a paternity case, the court decides whether the alleged father is or is not the legal father.
The court may decide to order genetic testing on its own or at the request of a public agency to show whether an alleged father is indeed the biological father of a child.
Additionally, the mother or alleged father may request the court to order genetic tests, but they must then file an affidavit (sworn statement) alleging or denying paternity and stating facts that demonstrate that there is a reasonable possibility that there was or was not enough sexual contact between the alleged father and the child’s mother to conceive a child. The court may also order payment of child support, decide who has custody of the child, and set a parenting schedule, if asked by one of the parties.
When Do I Need to Contact a Lawyer?
If you need to conduct a legal paternity test and are facing issues regarding, it is recommended to seek out a local family law attorney to guide you through the process.