Who Qualifies as a Legal Parent in an Illinois Paternity Case?
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:
- The child is born to married parents, giving each spouse rights as a legal parent;
- A child is conceived during a marriage, but the union is severed by divorce, death, or separation within 300 days of the child’s birth;
- The parents attempt to enter into a valid union, but it was later annulled or declared invalid; or
- The mother marries after the child’s birth, and the spouse consents to be added to the birth certificate.
Establishing Parental Rights
For situations that fall outside the scenarios described above, something more is needed to establish rights as a legal parent – a process called establishing paternity or parentage. Without this designation, a person has no right to petition for the allocation of parental responsibilities, meaning the mother can legally deprive the other individual of seeing or contacting the child. Thus, this procedure is essential if a parent wants to ensure he/she will have a continual role in the child’s life.
The easiest way to accomplish this result is for both parents to consent to paternity and file a Voluntary Acknowledgement of Paternity (VAP) form with the State. If there is a disagreement over paternity, a petition will need to be filed with the court seeking to establish or deny the paternity of the child. Generally, these cases involve establishing the type of relationship the presumed father had with the mother and the child. DNA testing is also a large component of proving or disproving parentage, and depending upon the statistical likelihood that the presumed father is related to the child, a presumption of paternity arises that is extremely difficult to overcome. The outcome of these cases is huge for both parties, and an experienced family law attorney should be involved to ensure all rights are fully protected.
Contact a Barrington Family Law Attorney
Being a parent is a large undertaking, and while quite rewarding, the legalities of this role are not always resolved by informal arrangements between partners. If you have questions about the parentage of your child, talk to dedicated Inverness paternity lawyer Nicholas W. Richardson for guidance. This issue is frequently complicated, and should be thoroughly understood before anything is signed or initiated. Contact our law firm at 847.873.6741 for a free initial consultation.