In today's society, more children are being born out of wedlock. There are reasons for this trend, for instance, it's easier for women to be economically independent than it was 50 years ago, it's more "socially acceptable" to be a single parent than it used to be, and as children of divorce are growing up, some of them don't want to make the same mistakes their parents did by marrying the wrong people.
With so many boys and girls being born to unwed mothers, family courts across the nation have stressed the importance of establishing paternity. What does it mean to establish paternity? It means to determine who a child's legal father is.
When a child is born to married parents, the state automatically presumes that the mother's husband is the child's natural (legal) father. But, when a child is born to unwed parents, the law does not assume that a man is a child's legal father – so the unwed father has no rights or responsibilities for his child.
For the law to recognize a man as a child's "legal father," one of two things have to occur first:
- Both parents can sign a voluntary paternity acknowledgement at the hospital shortly after the child's birth, or
- A DNA test confirms the father-child relationship and the family court makes an official court order stating that a man is the child's legal father.
What if a Father Isn't Sure?
If a current or former girlfriend has come out and says that you are the father of her baby and you are not 100% sure, you have every right to request a DNA (paternity) test to confirm that you are the child's biological father.
Being a father is a lifelong commitment and all alleged fathers are encouraged to establish paternity if they have not acknowledged it at the hospital after the child's birth. If you don't believe that you are the father, or if you're not sure, a paternity test can be conducted on you, the mother, and the child to determine if you are the father or not.
The mother, the child's legal guardian, or a possible father may request a paternity test if paternity was not previously established. If you mistakenly signed the Paternity Acknowledgement Affidavit at the hospital and you want to cancel it, you must cancel it within 60 days of the date you signed the form.
If you void the paternity acknowledgement, your parental rights will be cancelled, but it would not remove your name from the child's birth certificate. The only way a man's name can be removed from a child's birth certificate is by having a family court judge do it.
Effects of Establishing Paternity
Once a DNA test is conducted and paternity is established, the child's father assumes all of the rights and responsibilities for his child – the same as if the father and mother had been married. This means the father is responsible for financially supporting his child, but he also has the right to ask the court for child custody andvisitation orders.