When a child is born to an unmarried couple, it is important to establish paternity as soon as possible. Establishing paternity simply means that a legal father is named for the child. Both fathers and mothers are legally responsible for their children and for their care and support regardless of whether they wanted a child or whether they still have a relationship.
There are many reasons why establishing paternity is important for the child and for both parents.
- A legal father must be named in matters of child support and custody.
- According to law, both parents are required to support their children.
- Legal parents have the right of access to information about the child, such as adoption proceedings or juvenile court hearings.
- Health care providers should have the medical history of both parents.
- Inheritance rights and other benefits may be denied to the child if legal paternity is not established.
Paternity may be established in one of several ways:
- Voluntary paternity statement to be signed by both parents. All 50 states have have official forms that acknowledge the paternity of the child. There is a time limit in states for signing. These forms are available at hospitals and birthing for unwed parents to sign. This statement has the same legality as a court order. Once it is signed and submitted, the child’s paternity is firmly established.
- Unwed parents in Arizona, for instance, may establish paternity and child support by going to the Division of Child Support Services DCSS). The acknowledgement is signed by both parents and filed through the Hospital Paternity Program.
- Genetic testing can be conducted in a DCSS office if there is a question regarding the child’s father. If the results are 95% or greater in establishing the father, the DCSS sends a Request for an Order of Paternity to the court and a copy to both parents.
- Unwed parents in Arizona, or instance, may choose to resolve paternity questions through the state court system without involving the DCSS. This option will usually involve court and lawyer’s fees.
Paternity of a child is best and most easily established by naming the father on the birth certificate. All states offer unwed parents this opportunity, which is usually done at the hospital, although the certificate can be signed at a later time as well.
It is not necessary for a child to be given the father’s last name even with established paternity. If the birth occurs in a hospital setting, a health representative may meet with the new mother and ask some questions, including the father’s name. A birth certificate, which can be issued even if the baby is not yet named, does not usually disclose that the parents are not married.
A birth certificate can be updated at a later time to include the child’s name and the name of the father. At that time in most states, the father must sign an acknowledgement of paternity in order for his name to be added to the infant’s birth certificate. If you have questions about legally establishing paternity you should consult a family law lawyer in your state.
The Cantor Law Group is a Family Law Firm based in Phoenix, AZ. For more information about paternity, adoption, child custody, or any other family law matter in Arizona, please see their website: http://phoenixdivorcelawyeraz.com