Giving Your Children A Chance: Paternity and Custody
It is a common (if somewhat stereotypical) trope that when a child is born, it is the mother who will have to seek the biological father out and hector him into acknowledging paternity legally. However, this does a disservice to the millions of fathers who actively wish to be involved in their children’s lives, yet are discouraged or dissuaded from acknowledging paternity, or actively turned away from trying to claim a child as their own. If you want to be involved in your child’s life, but are facing resistance or problems, you do have options you can use to pursue the matter.
What Are My Rights?
In theory, acknowledging paternity of your child can be very easy. When the baby is born, you and the mother, if you are unmarried, will have the opportunity to complete a voluntary acknowledgment of paternity (VAP) form. While there are other opportunities to assert your paternity, this is by far the quickest and easiest method if the child’s mother allows you to sign the form. However, it is extremely important to realize that completing a VAP form does not entitle you to any legal custodial rights to the child, nor to any guaranteed parenting time. It establishes a parent-child relationship, but it does not establish legal paternity. The distinction is fine, but important. It is possible to have a parent-child relationship without having legal custody or decision-making authority.
In order to establish legal paternity, an order must be entered with the relevant family court which addresses the question of custody, or an administrative proceeding must be completed with the Illinois Department of Child & Family Services (DCFS). Generally, DNA testing will be part of any proceedings if parentage is truly in doubt, and it is always a good idea to ensure that you know the results before agreeing to anything. Illinois courts are unlikely to overturn paternity findings even if it later comes out that the child is not yours. This can affect everything from potential support payments to parenting time and beyond.
If You Encounter Resistance
There are many reasons the mother of a child may not wish to acknowledge you as the child’s father or pursue testing to establish the fact - some understandable, some more malevolent. She may fear torpedoing a current relationship by acknowledging your paternity, or she may be embarrassed that she is unsure. Some women, however, try to seek child support from a child’s putative father before legally establishing the relationship. In Illinois, you may wind up stuck in this situation if you do not contest such findings.
If you encounter resistance, but you reasonably believe that you are the child’s father and want to be involved in that child’s life, you are entitled to bring an action - in court or in an administrative proceeding - to settle the matter. Many men labor under the mistaken presumption that only the mother may request adjudication of paternity, but this is not the case. However, it is important to establish your bonafides beforehand - for example, registering with the Illinois Putative Fathers Registry, gathering information in support of your assertion, and the like. Signing a VAP grants you the right to petition for a paternity test, and if you are found to be the father, you consent to all the inherent responsibilities that go along with that position.
Contact an Experienced Attorney
It is unfair to assume that all unmarried men have no interest in their children or in fatherhood, but stereotypes command power. If you are in a situation where you need to prove paternity, enlisting a good attorney can help. The skilled Kane County paternity attorneys at The Stogsdill Law Firm, P.C. are ready, willing and able to assist. Contact us today to set up an initial consultation.