Becoming a parent is often a life-changing experience. Everything from how you perceive the world around you to your priorities will inevitably shift once you have responsibility for a child and an opportunity to see the world through their eyes.
Embracing a parental role and being a part of a child’s life can benefit child and parent alike. This is true whether the child’s parents are married or not. In order for unmarried fathers to have legally recognized rights and responsibilities regarding their child, however, they may need to take formal steps to establish paternity. This can be accomplished in a few ways, as discussed below.
Putting the father’s name on the birth certificate
Depending on the relationship between the parents, it may be possible to simply add the father’s name to the birth certificate. In order to do things this way, both parents would need to sign a paternity affidavit shortly after the birth. This can be done at the hospital within 72 hours of the birth, or thereafter at the local health department. A paternity affidavit can be changed or cancelled if there is a successful challenge within 60 days of the initial affidavit’s signing. After 60 days, the affidavit can still be challenged or canceled, but only if the father listed on the affidavit can prove that he was tricked or forced into signing originally, and can present evidence that he is not the father.
If both parents do not voluntarily sign a paternity affidavit, certain individuals and entities can file a paternity suit in court. Usually this must be done in the first two years after the birth. The individuals and entities empowered to file a paternity suit include:
- A man who believes himself to be the father
- The mother
- The child
- The mother and father together
- The division of family and children (for children whom have received public benefits)
A prosecuting attorney will then pursue a paternity action on behalf of the child, a process that may include a DNA test, if requested.
Right and responsibilities
Once paternity has been legally established, then the courts will need to formally determine an arrangement for custody, visitation and child support, and even a name change, to allow the child’s last name to be changed to that of the father.