When a child is born, there is, of course, no doubt as to who the mother of the child is. Fathers, however, don’t have the same immediate benefit. If the couple is married, then the husband of the mother is presumed to be the father; this is true even if he is not the biological father. For unmarried couples, steps have to be taken to establish paternity. Whether you are a father who wants to be sure that you are named as such or a mother who needs to declare who the father of your child is, read on to find out how to establish paternity (and why it’s important in the first place).
Why You Should Establish Paternity
The father of a child has not only responsibilities toward that child but also certain rights. There are several reasons that it is important to establish paternity. Some of them include:
- Child support. If you are the mother of a child whose father is not helping to support the child, then you might be entitled to child support. This can, of course, only be ordered if paternity is established. On the other hand, if you are a man currently paying child support for a child that you do not think is yours, knowing whether you are, in fact, the biological father can, in some cases, allow you to stop paying.
- Custody/visitation. The father of the child is usually entitled to visitation and, in some cases, custody (shared or sole) of the child. Establishing paternity allows fathers to assert these rights.
- Medical records access. It’s beneficial for the child to know who both of his or her birth parents are because if there are any genetic issues or medical problems that run in the family, this information might be important during childhood or later in life.
- Medical insurance, veterans’ benefits, life insurance, and social security. If the child’s birth father is supplying any type of medical insurance or if he dies while the child is still underage, the child might be entitled to veterans’ benefits, social security, or life insurance payments.
- Again, when the child’s birth father dies, he or she might be entitled to an inheritance.
Signing the Birth Certificate
In all states, an unmarried father can voluntarily establish paternity by signing the child’s birth certificate with the agreement of the child’s mother. This is usually done in the hospital within a few days of the baby’s birth. If both parents know and acknowledge that a particular man is the father, then both parents will sign the birth certificate and paternity has been established.
If later, one or both parents want to contest the establishment of paternity, they will need to have blood tests done. If it turns out that the person listed on the birth certificate is not the child’s father, then the father might be able to rescind his paternity through the court system in some cases. This is not always possible and it is not a simple matter, so if you are not sure that you are the child’s father, it’s far easier to not sign the birth certificate and to have paternity testing done first.
File a Paternity Statement
If you have not signed the birth certificate, you will need to file a paternity statement in some states. In some states, the process is formalized and you will need to fill out specific forms. In others, there is no formal process and you can make an informal declaration. Both parents will often need to go to a notary office to have the form notarized. It might or might not be filed with a court. A legal advocacy group like National Family Solutions can help you understand the law in your state, whether this is the best option to establish paternity, and whether you will need to file a formalized statement or have the document notarized.
Have Genetic Testing Done
Genetic testing will prove nearly beyond a shadow of a doubt whether the child is biologically related to the father. There are several types of testing that can be done during pregnancy or after the child is born.
- Non-invasive prenatal paternity test. A blood test from both the mother and the presumed or suspected father after the eighth week of pregnancy can prove whether the father’s DNA is in the mother’s bloodstream. This test is 99.9 percent accurate and is recommended by the American Pregnancy Association.
- Amniocentesis or Chorionic Villus Sampling (CVS). These are more invasive tests that are generally not done only to establish paternity. They both involve taking cells from the womb while the mother is pregnant, and both carry a very small risk of miscarriage. Many women have these tests done for other reasons, so if one is scheduled, the DNA test for paternity establishment can be done as well.
- Blood testing. Blood tests after the child is born can also be performed to establish paternity. A blood sample is taken from both the father and the child. If it is requested before or during the delivery, the blood sample from the baby can be taken from the umbilical cord. Otherwise, it will be taken in a laboratory later.
- Buccal swab. This is the most common method of establishing paternity after the child is born. A swab is rubbed on the inside of the cheek of both the presumed father and the child and the DNA results are compared.
Once you establish paternity and, when necessary, approved by the court system, the benefits and responsibilities of fatherhood begin. Fathers are usually entitled to visitation and custody, and they are often (but not always) responsible for paying child support. National Family Solutions wants to help you create and maintain a bond with your child that will last a lifetime. Contact us to find out if we can help you establish paternity and exercise your rights as a father or, if you are the child’s mother, obtain child support from your child’s father.