If parents are not married, either at the beginning of the pregnancy or after the birth of their child, the father does not have the same legal rights and responsibilities that the mother automatically gains.
When couples separate, many men are left without legal rights in relation to their children, making it difficult to maintain contact and arrange visits. It can also lead to lengthy custody battles.
An acknowledgement of parentage gives the father specific custodial rights, as well as a legal obligation to provide financial support for the child.
In order to establish paternity rights, fathers have two options: to settle the matter informally or to go through the court system.
However, establishing paternity does not automatically provide the father with legal rights such as custody, visitation or consent to medical treatment. This will need to be dealt with once the matter of paternity is resolved.
Out of Court
An informal way to establish paternity is for both the mother and father to sign an affidavit stating that they are the parents of the child. This can be signed at:
- The hospital before the baby is discharged
- A local public health unit
- The Department of Children and Families office
- The Child Support Enforcement office
Once it has been signed, it is advisable to file a copy of the affidavit with a legal professional.
When a dispute about paternity occurs, an application can be made to the court for an acknowledgement of paternity.
The court has the power to order that DNA testing be carried out. The judge will order the biological mother and father and the child to take paternity tests.
If the proposed father is proven to be the child’s biological father then the court can make an acknowledgement of paternity.
The court will then inform the Registry Office so that the child’s birth certificate can be re-registered to include the father’s details.
If the man named as the child’s father does not appear before the court, the judge may use other methods such as the mother’s testimony to establish the legal father of the child.
Alternatively the father can sign a parental responsibility agreement, declaration of parentage, in order to legally establish a parent-child relationship with the child.
The Benefits of Establishing Paternity
Establishing a child’s biological origin is recognised by psychologists as being highly important for their sense of identity. Once paternity has been established, your child enjoys the same rights as a child born to married parents. These include:
- Legal proof of each parent’s identity
- A full medical history (in the case of an inherited health problem)
- Financial support from both parents, including child support and inheritance
Once the father is proved to be the biological father he gains the following rights:
- To seek a court order for child support
- To seek a court order for custody and/or visitation
- To have a say in certain legal decisions regarding the child
By signing the acknowledgement of parentage, both the mother and father acknowledge that the latter is the biological father of the child.
It also means that the father then becomes legally responsible for the child’s financial support until the child reaches adulthood. You are required by law to contribute towards your child’s well-being and upbringing. This may include paying child support to your ex-partner if you are not classed as the parent with care.
If you are looking to establish paternity, Cordell & Cordell can offer a wealth of useful information and advice to help you through this difficult time in your life.
Contact Cordell & Cordell for more information.