Whether you’re a mother or a father, you should care about establishing legal paternity for your child. It’s not automatic for unmarried fathers to have legal rights and responsibilities over their kids. You need to take action.
Is it only about child support?
Not at all. There are a variety of legal and social benefits to having a legal father. It’s true that parents are expected to provide financial support during their kids’ childhood and early adulthood. Yew, establishing legal paternity will initiate a child support obligation, but there is so much more:
- The child will have a stronger sense of their identity when they know who their father is, along with their grandparents and other paternal relatives.
- The child will have access to their entire family health history. This could be important to the child’s long-term health decision-making because many medical conditions are genetic.
- The child can be enrolled in the father’s health insurance plan, which could be an advantage.
- The child will have rights to enrollment in the father’s Native American tribe and band, if applicable.
- The child will have the right to inherit from the father and to receive financial benefits from their father’s accounts, such as Social Security, veterans benefits and pension.
Those are important benefits for any child. Establishing paternity can also provide protections for the father:
- The father’s name will be on the baby’s birth certificate.
- The child cannot be placed for adoption without considering the father’s parental rights.
- The father can seek legal custody and visitation with the child.
Is it difficult or expensive to establish legal paternity?
No. There are several options:
- A voluntary acknowledgement of paternity
- A conclusive determination of paternity via a DNA test
- A court ruling of paternity
Generally, a court hearing is necessary when the mother and alleged father disagree about who the child’s parent is. For example, a man may claim he is the father, but the mother may not agree with that assessment. Or, the man may deny he is the father of a child whose mother claims he is.
A court hearing is also necessary if the father wants custody and visitation rights.
Legal paternity can be established at any time before the child’s 19th birthday. However, as we mentioned above, there are concrete advantages for both the father and the child to establish paternity as early as possible.
Finally, establishing paternity allows you to develop a loving relationship with your child – or to connect your child with his or her father permanently. It’s worth it.