How to Establish Paternity in Illinois
The birth of a child brings joy and excitement to parents, family and friends. This event also marks the beginning of the time a parent has to shape the child into the type of person he or she will develop into as an adult. People commonly assume that all parents have the full bevy of legal rights typically held upon birth. This is correct for mothers and married couples. However, unwed fathers have no right to custody or visitation with a child until paternity is legally established.
Paternity is the legal recognition that a man is the father of a child. The establishment of paternity is necessary for unwed fathers who wish to assume the all the rights and obligations parents have over a child. Illinois offers several options to confirm paternity; however, not every legal procedure has the same effect. Therefore, understanding the consequences of each alternative is important when determining which to choose.
DNA testing is the gold standard for proving the paternity of a child, and is used today to unravel mysteries around unknown parentage. People are now even submitting DNA samples to online ancestry websites to find lost relatives and identify absent parents. Just a few years ago, this type of search would have been impossible, but advances in technology continually make connecting with others easier. Unmarried men wishing to remain an active presence in their children's lives need to understand the legal requirements to gain their parental rights.
The easiest method of establishing paternity is to file a Voluntary Acknowledgement of Paternity (VAP) form with the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services (HFS). The VAP form must be signed by both parents and two witnesses. Completing this form allows the man to be listed as the father on the birth certificate, and holds the same legal force as a Court Declaration of Paternity. This means that executing this form obligates the man to financially support the child until age 18. Yet the form also allows the man to petition for parenting time and responsibilities in Family Court.
Note that executing this form alone does not grant the man enforceable rights as to parenting time, but simply the ability to ask a Court to allocate and approve them. Either parent has the right to rescind or cancel this acknowledgement within 60 days of the acknowledgement's effectiveness, or the date of a Court proceeding related to the child, whichever occurs first.
Genetic testing is the most accurate way to determine paternity, and should be used in all cases where a party questions the identity of a child's father. These tests are frequently ordered in connection with petitions to determine parentage, and are used to verify if specific individuals are biologically related to a child.
Determining parentage is an essential prerequisite to enforcing child support obligations or allocating parenting responsibilities. Many individuals and entities have the ability to file a petition for parentage, including:
- The child;
- The child's mother;
- A man presumed or alleging himself to be the child's father;
- HFS in connection with child support collection; and
- Any person or governmental agency who has physical custody of the child, or is providing financial support.
DNA samples from the mother, alleged father and child are tested in these cases, although the mother's DNA is not essential. If genetic testing identifies the man as the father of the child within a 99.9 percent probability, then these results are admitted as conclusive evidence of paternity. However, the father may rebut the results with other genetic testing that indicates the man is not biologically related to the child, or identifies someone else as the father. The cost of testing is usually borne by the party that filed the petition, but may be allocated between parties or offered at reduced cost to those with economic hardships.
Contact an Illinois Family Law Attorney
If you have questions about paternity, turn to an experienced Palatine family law attorney. The Law Office of Nicholas W. Richardson offers legal services in a variety of family law matters, including paternity, and can help to establish and enforce your parental rights. Those living in northwest Chicagoland should contact Attorney Richardson today to schedule a free consultation.