Here in Indiana, a mother is automatically understood to be the legal parent of the child born to them. State law doesn’t see a man’s paternity similarly, though.
There’s a presumption of paternity when a dad is married to a child’s mother at birth. State law doesn’t extend unmarried fathers the same right.
Fathers who aren’t married to a baby’s mother at birth have 72 hours to sign a Voluntary Declaration of Paternity to have the dad’s name added to the child’s birth certificate. Fathers must file a paternity affidavit at their local health department anytime after that 72-hour window. Mothers can take fathers to court and have them undergo genetic testing to prove their paternity as well.
Now that you understand how paternity works here in Indiana, you may wonder what the benefits of establishing paternity are. There are two primary benefits associated with you doing so.
How establishing paternity gives your child a sense of belonging
You and your child’s mother may get along well enough that you don’t envision anything ever coming between you that would leave you being cut out of your son’s or daughter’s life. A breakup, illness or tragic accident involving the child’s mother could result in not having access to your child without you taking legal action.
Establishing your paternity formalizes that legal connection to your child so that you don’t have to worry about these interruptions if something unexpected happens.
You can petition the court for visitation and custody
While you and your child’s mother may have a verbal agreement to allow you to visit with or trade off custody of your child, it has no standing in a court of law. Your child’s mom could withdraw your access to your child at any point if no formal agreement exists.
You can only request visitation or custody after establishing paternity. Most judges award parents shared custody unless they’re presented with evidence that it’s not in your child’s best interests to do so. Establishing your paternity and asserting your parental rights ensures your right to remain a constant figure in your child’s life and may entitle you to make important decisions about health care, education and religion.
Establishing paternity sends a message to your child that you’re committed to being involved in their life for the long haul. There’s no time like now to send that message to them.