What an Unwed Father Should Know about Establishing Paternity
Babies are born every day: Some are planned and others are not; some are born to married parents and some are not. Whatever the individual situation behind a birth, one fact remains constant: That baby is a brand-new human being with needs who is likely to change their parents’ lives forever. If you’re an unwed father and don’t have plans to marry the child’s mother, it’s essential to have all the knowledge you need to make informed decisions about your new status as a father and to protect that role. Here’s what every unwed father should know about establishing paternity, and his rights.
How to Establish Paternity
In all states, a man is presumed to be the father if the child’s parents are legally married at the time of birth or within 300 days after the marriage has ended. In contrast, an unwed father must take active steps to establish paternity if he wants to have any kind of legal standing in regards to the child. You can establish paternity in one of these three ways:
1. You can put your name on the birth certificate. If you’re in the hospital with the mother during the birth, you can both fill out the birth certificate together. Doing so means you agree to be the legal father of the child and gives you the obligation to help support the child financially. It also makes the child eligible for your social-security death benefits and allows them to be enrolled on your health-insurance plan. Keep in mind, however, that it does not necessarily give you visitation or decision-making rights for the child. Learn more about birth certificates >
2. Sign a Voluntary Acknowledgment of Paternity and/or register with a Putative Father Registry. If signing the birth certificate is not a possibility, you (and the mother) can instead sign a Voluntary Acknowledgment of Paternity document or register with a Putative Father Registry (if it’s available in your state).
3. Petition the court. If the mother contests paternity, you can contact the Child Support Enforcement Division in your state or file a Complaint to Establish Paternity. When you petition the court, they require a legal DNA paternity test with court-admissible results to be performed to confirm biological paternity.
STOP: Are you sure you’re the father? Unwed fathers can protect themselves by performing either a home paternity test or a legal paternity test before signing either the birth certificate or the Voluntary Acknowledgment of Paternity. It’s perfectly safe to test as soon as the baby is born, or you can also do a paternity test before the baby is born. Once you sign on the dotted line, you are considered the legal father of the child—accepting all the responsibilities of fatherhood, and if you choose to do a paternity test in the future, there’s no guarantee a court would disestablish your acknowledgment of paternity even if your DNA test shows you’re not the biological father. In fact, it’s very unlikely. So if you’re in any doubt about whether or not you’re the father, you may want to get paternity answers before taking steps to establish paternity.
If I Acknowledge Paternity, do I Gain Custody or Visitation Rights too?
Establishing paternity does not automatically guarantee visitation or custody rights if you’re an unwed father. If you live with the mother, then custody is not an issue unless you choose to separate. But if you do not live together, then you must retain the services of a family-law attorney who can petition for custody in the court on your behalf.
What about Child Support?
Yup—when you sign documents acknowledging paternity, you don’t gain custody, but you do gain financial responsibility for the child. The only way to be released from that obligation is to have paternity rights terminated by a court. Learn more about child support >
The Bottom Line
It’s much harder for an unwed father to obtain all the rights of daddyhood than it is for a married one, but if you want to be a part of your child’s life, the effort is definitely worth it. If you’re interested in getting a paternity test before legally committing to fathering a child, no one performs this service better than DNA Diagnostics Center (DDC).