When a woman has a child, there is no confusion that she is the mother. Unless she was a surrogate, everyone knows that she is the mom. There can, however, be uncertainty about who the father is.
Legally, being the father is more complicated than simply claiming that the child as your own. If you are not married to the child’s mother, you must establish paternity, the legal term for fatherhood. Sometimes this process is easy; sometimes it is complicated. It is made even more complex when the mother is uncooperative. In this article, we will explore the legal process of paternity, and we will discuss why establishing paternity is good for both father and child.
When a Married Woman Has a Baby
Generally, most states assume that a pregnant woman’s husband is the legal father of the child. Some states even grant paternity to the husband automatically. California essentially operates the same way. At the birth, the married couple can sign the birth certificate together without resistance. The mother can even sign for her husband in his absence.
Of course, those signatures aren’t the same thing as biological parenthood. The woman could have been pregnant when she met her husband. Perhaps she had an affair, or she was in a consensual, non-monogamous relationship. Whatever the case, the biological father can be immediately cut out of his child’s life when the mother is married to another man.
When a man, not married to the mother, wants paternity, he may challenge the parentage. He has two years to file a form called the Petition to Establish Parental Relationship. If the court agrees to the father’s challenge, they can order genetic testing.
This process can be an uphill battle. Courts are always most concerned about the “best interest” of the child. They might believe that challenging paternity will be too disruptive. This would happen if they feel that the child is in a good home and that your interference would not be good for the child. If you plan to contest parentage, make sure to secure the services of a good lawyer. You need someone who can help argue your case and convince the courts that your involvement will be an asset, not a hindrance, to the child’s life.
When the Parents Agrees to Paternity
Not every situation is as dramatic as the one outlined above. Even if the woman is already married to another man, she can agree to allow the biological father to establish paternity.
If both parents agree to establish paternity, they can file a Voluntary Declaration of Paternity form. Both signatures need to be present, and once the form is processed, paternity is granted. You can wait to sign it since you don’t need to at the hospital. Even though the process is simple, it is still advisable to seek legal counsel before filing. Having an attorney give the forms a thorough inspection can save heartache and headache later.
Establishing Paternity Through the Courts
Perhaps a father missed his window to contest parentage, but it wasn’t his fault. Maybe he was unaware that the woman had a child and found out much later. Perhaps he had been blocked by the mother or denied by the courts. There are ways to establish paternity later in a child’s life.
A father can file a case to establish parentage. In fact, there are many people who can do so. The mother, an adoption agency, a child support agency, and a child over 12 can bring forth such a case. After reviewing the case, courts can order genetic testing, but they are not compelled to do so. If this case is brought against an unwilling father, courts could view his refusal to participate in genetic testing as an admission of paternity.
Filing such a case is a complicated, long process. You will need the services of a good attorney to represent you, helping you gain legal claim to your child.
Why You Should Establish Paternity
Perhaps you are currently in an amicable, beneficial situation with your family. Everyone is cooperating and getting along. It can be tempting to assume that going through the process of establishing paternity is too much of a hassle. It is important to remember that things change. All stakeholders are happy now, but they might not be later. After all, if you are not married to the mother, there is likely a reason why. Establishing paternity now creates benefits and protections later.
Here are some benefits of establishing paternity.
Without official, legally recognized fatherhood, you could be cut out of the child’s life. You will have no legal claim without paternity. There are no visitation rights. Decision-making can be done without you, and you cannot participate in child support. Paternity changes all that. As the child’s legal father, you have visitation rights, decision-making authority, and the ability to contribute financially.
Paternity grants you the ability to contribute through child support. There are other financial benefits as well. A father can put his child on his insurance plan. With a will, people can technically grant any of their property to anyone they choose. However, if you have no will or the will is contested, your assets could go into intestate succession after your death. In this process, legal children are direct beneficiaries of the deceased’s estate.
Through legal fatherhood, you can have access to your child’s health records. This helps with decision-making and gives you access to their doctors. There are also direct benefits to the child. Doctors can access your health history and use it to help treat your offspring.
There is something comforting about knowing when something is official. No matter how close you are to your children, making your relationship legal provides security. Both you and your children will know, beyond any doubt, that you are genuinely father and child. This can create a lifelong bond, and it can give everyone peace of mind.
If you need assistance with establishing paternity, reach out for a free consultation. We may be able to help. Simply fill out an online form, or call (916) 299-3936.