You used to think paternity was straightforward: you either were a father or you weren't. But then you got involved in issues of child custody and support during divorce proceedings, and now you don't know what to think or where to turn for help.
If this confusing situation sounds familiar, you're not alone: thousands of fathers deal with the complexities of paternity and divorce law every day.
Below, we'll provide a basic guide to how, when, and why to establish paternity. To get personalized guidance on establishing paternity in your unique situation, get in touch with a family and divorce lawyer who can talk through case specifics with you.
How Should I Establish Paternity?
Establishing paternity legally verifies the identity of the child's biological father if the parents weren't married at the time of birth. If your partner gives birth at a hospital, hospital staff usually provide you with paperwork that allows you to put your name on your child's birth certificate and voluntarily state that you're the father of the child.
If your partner didn't give birth at a hospital, you can voluntarily establish paternity when you visit a state health department to record the child's birth.
If you didn't establish your paternity near the time of your child's birth, you can do so afterward, though some states have a limit on how much time can pass between birth and the father's declaration of paternity. To find out how long you can wait before declaring paternity, contact your state health department directly.
Whenever you declare your paternity, you'll typically need to have the document notarized for legal verification.
Why Should I Establish Paternity?
You should establish paternity as early as possible after your child's birth, not only because you want to be involved in your child's life but because if you don't do so, a potential separation or divorce and child custody suit could become very complicated very quickly.
If you haven't officially established your paternity, you'll have a much harder time winning child custody and visitation rights. In fact, you could be denied visitation and custody rights altogether, meaning that a divorce or separation isn't just the end of your relationship with your partner — it also effectively ends your relationship with your kids.
Of course, it's easier to get child support payments from the declared father, so having a declaration of paternity is in the best interests of both parents in terms of equally sharing the burden of raising children after a divorce.
What If I Don't Establish Paternity?
If you never established paternity, you might still be responsible for child support payments (and eligible for visitation rights) if you're in one of the following situations:
- You helped raise the child as your own, regardless of whether they were biologically yours.
- You married or attempted to marry the child's mother after the child's conception or birth.
- You were married to the child's mother at the time of conception or birth.
If you aren't a child's biological father, you don't usually have to pay child support, especially if you haven't had a relationship with the child. If your partner claims that you were the child's father even though you don't believe you are, you'll likely have to submit to a DNA test to prove definitively whether you did or didn't father the child.
If your partner denies that you were the father and you do want custody or visitation rights, you can bring a paternity suit yourself. A DNA test proves that you fathered your children and deserve to help raise them.
What If I Need Help With a Paternity Suit?
During a divorce or separation, fathers' rights are crucial, both to the father himself and to his children's wellbeing. If you're seeking custody or visitation rights — or if you've been misidentified as the father of a child — get in touch with The Madden Law Firm Attorneys At Law for a case evaluation.