If parents of a child are not married or in a civil union when the child is born, the father is not considered to be the legal father of the child. This means that the father’s name cannot be added to the birth certificate until paternity is established.
Paternity is the legal relationship between a father and his child and establishing paternity is important because it provides financial security for the child. It gives a child rights to social security benefits from a disabled or deceased parent, inheritance, veteran’s benefits (if applicable), health and life insurance benefits, and a medical history.
There are three ways to establish paternity: Both parents complete and sign a Voluntary Acknowledgment of Paternity (VAP) and file it with the Department of Healthcare and Family Services, an Order of Paternity is entered by a Judge, or an Administrative Paternity Order is established by Healthcare and Family Services. The easiest way to establish paternity is to complete and sign the VAP at the hospital when the child is born and file it with HFS so that the father’s name can be added to the child’s birth certificate.
If parents are not sure who the biological father of the child is, they should not sign the VAP. It is important to note that while a VAP can be rescinded, certain steps must be taken and a rescission must be filed within 60 days of the signing. Another option is to establish paternity by genetic testing.
A decree of parentage is necessary to establish the obligations of the parents including, child support, medical insurance, and contributions to medical and education expenses. Once paternity is established, unless the parties can agree, the court will make decisions regarding the allocation of parental responsibilities and parenting time. While both parents have the obligation to support their child, only one parent will be ordered to pay child support. As with any agreement or judicial order, there are implications and each parent is encouraged to seek legal advice prior to entering into any agreement.