The Importance of Establishing Legal Paternity
Daytime television tropes aside, most parents will not require genetic tests to verify a biological relationship with their children. For a child born to married parents, the presumption is made, and nearly always legally established, that both spouses are the child's parents. Each year, however, thousands of children are born to parents who are not married. The laws in most states, including Illinois, make establishing paternity a rather simple process.
Situations may arise, of course, in which a court and government agency may require DNA testing regarding a man's relationship to a child, but most cases are much more straightforward. In Illinois, legal paternity may be determined in one of three ways:
- Both parents complete and sign a Volunteer Acknowledgement of Paternity (VAP) form;
- An Administrative Paternity Order is issued by The Department of Healthcare and Family Services’ (HFS) Child Support Service; or
- A Judicial Order of Paternity is entered by the court.
Completing the Voluntary Acknowledgment of Paternity (VAP) Form
The easiest way to establish paternity for unmarried parents is to complete and sign a VAP, which is made available for completion by the hospital when the baby is born. If, for whatever reason, the father is not present at the hospital, the VAP can completed at a later time and is just as binding. The form collects information about both parents and the child and represents an acknowledgement of financial responsibility regarding the child. The father's name be included on the original birth certificate if the form is completed at the hospital. If the form is submitted later, the birth certificate can have the father's name added to it.
Administrative or Judicial Orders
With its mission of ensuring that both parents regularly and appropriately provide financial support for their children, HFS’ Child Support Services may step in and provides its resources to the paternity process. Illinois law provides the agency with the authority to gather information from and regarding the mother and the child's alleged father, up to and including the ordering of genetic testing. As the result of the testing, or by default if the man refuses to cooperate, an Administrative Paternity Order can be entered by HFS. In other situations, attorneys for the state may take the case to court, after which, a judicial Order of Paternity may be entered.
Importance of Paternity
The benefits of establishing paternity go well beyond the potential for financial support. Both the father and the child can benefit in several ways:
- The names of both the mother and father can be documented on the child's birth certificate;
- Access to family medical history and health-related risks can be considered in making healthcare and lifestyle decisions;
- The child may be eligible for certain benefits, including veterans’ benefits, inheritances, and others through his or her father;
- Both parents' legal rights regarding the child are more easily defended.
No set of guidelines can account for every possible set of circumstances, and complicating factors certainly may exist. If you are involved in a paternity case in Illinois or would like to have paternity established for your child, an experienced Geneva family law attorney can help. Contact our office today for an evaluation of your case and take the next step toward the security of your child's future.