Taking care of a child is a monumental task that involves both physical caretaking and making decisions that impact a child’s daily and long-term life. While the specific duties shift over time as the child ages, the responsibilities of a parent never completely go away. Most parents perform these as simply a part of fulfilling this role, and a parent may never stop to consider whether he or she qualifies as a legal parent, or what this designation even means.
The designation of legal parent brings a number of rights and obligations that only certain people are eligible to receive, regardless of the love and care a person may give to a child. Specifically, legal parents are the only adults authorized to make decisions on behalf of the child, particularly those related to education and medical treatment. In addition, only a legal parent is permitted to request access to the child and parenting time in the event of divorce or separation. With all of the non-traditional family structures that make up society today, this status is not the given it was in the past.
Who Is a Legal Parent?
The law is fairly clear on who, when, and how a person is recognized as a legal parent, and practically speaking, fathers are the most affected by these laws. The reason for that dichotomy is that mothers automatically become a child’s legal parent upon giving birth to a child (aside from surrogacy situations), but fathers are not always so easily tied to the birth of a child. However, the law does recognize four situations in which a person is considered a legal parent:...
Paternity is a term used to describe the relationship between a father and his child. Legal paternity is established by law, and it gives a mother the right to seek child support from her child's father. Additionally, a father then has the right to seek custody and visitation.
In Illinois, when a married woman gives birth, her husband is the baby’s father. Or, if a mother is married at the time of conception, her ex-husband is assumed to be the child’s father. In both scenarios, a husband or ex-husband’s name is placed on a birth certificate and is therefore considered a baby’s legal father.
However, when a mother is not married at the time she gives birth, a father is not automatically considered a legal father — even if the couple is in a long-term relationship and there is no doubt the man is the child’s father. In these scenarios, a father must first establish paternity in order to become a child’s legal father and have his name placed on the birth certificate....