The Importance of Establishing Paternity for Young Parents
Paternity is a process unmarried men must go through to gain legal recognition as a child’s parent in order to receive and assume all of the associated rights and obligations. Parenthood can be a daunting responsibility, and sometimes young men and women facing an unexpected pregnancy lack motivation or support for undertaking this central role.
Young men, in particular, may have a hard time adjusting to the news of an unexpected pregnancy, since they can more easily remove themselves from the situation. However, many young parents do want the chance to actively and responsibly raise their children. Young, single parents are at a particular disadvantage. However, a program offered by a Chicago-based organization, One United Hope, gives young parents parenting education and continuing support through in-home visits until a child is three years of age.
Young, unmarried fathers may not realize they do not automatically receive parental rights, despite the financial and physical efforts they provide to care for the child. Establishing paternity gives important rights to the father and provides critical financial benefits to the child meant to create a level of financial security until age 18.
Illinois law offers three methods to establish paternity: Voluntary Acknowledgement of Paternity (VAP), Court declaration and Department of Healthcare and Family Services (DHFS) hearing. The easiest and fastest option to establish parentage is for both parents to execute a VAP, as Court or other governmental involvement is not necessary. The mother and the man claiming parentage need only sign the form in the presence of a witness over the age of 18, and then submit the form to the State for processing. Note that if both parents are not available or willing to sign the form, a Court order on paternity will be needed. Either parent has the right to rescind the acknowledgement within 60 days of the date the acknowledgement becomes effective, or the designation becomes final.
The DHFS can establish parentage when there is disagreement over the paternity of a child. This process is less complicated than seeking a Court order. However, the process takes a significant period of time and only settles parentage and child support obligations. The purported father and the mother must agree to accept the results of genetic testing to use this process. If paternity is confirmed, then the man’s name will be added to the birth certificate and the child’s parentage will be legally established.
Why Going to Court is Still Necessary
Establishing parentage using the administrative options described above has one very important limitation — they cannot determine or enforce a father’s right to parenting responsibilities. A Court order is needed to establish a parent’s right to custody and visitation with a child. Therefore, merely settling the child’s parentage will not give the father the ability to petition for access to the child, or the right to obtain information about the child.
Genetic testing should be performed before consenting to paternity, since Courts are quite reluctant to overturn voluntary consent to paternity, even if evidence emerges the alleged father may not be related to the child. Securing the right to see one’s child is a critical element of being a parent, and unmarried fathers need to protect themselves from possibly losing contact with a child because the relationship with the mother ends. Child custody matters are complicated and sensitive, and require the attention of an experienced family law attorney to ensure rights and responsibilities are properly recognized.
Speak with an Illinois Family Law Attorney
Taking responsibility for a child is a big commitment, and you want to make sure you are receiving all corresponding rights to see your child, and not just the financial obligations. The Law Office of Nicholas W. Richardson, P.C. offers clients methods to obtain a civil and amicable solution to paternity issues that will focus on your goals and objectives going forward. Contact a passionate Palatine family law attorney at the law firm today for a free initial consultation.