A growing number of individuals in the U.S. are foregoing marriage, yet still having children. In cases where a child is born to mother who is not married, she automatically has legal sole custody of the child. This means that the child's father must take steps to establish paternity and legally be recognized as the child's father.
Many unwed couples who are in long-term and committed relationships decide to have a child. Some fathers, however, fail to recognize the importance of establishing legal paternity. Often, questions or concerns related to paternity don't surface until or unless a couple splits and a father attempts to gain legal child custody or visitation rights.
In Illinois, paternity may be established voluntarily through the signing of a document known as a Voluntary Acknowledgement of Paternity or by a court order and genetic testing.
In cases where both mother and father agree on paternity, a Voluntary Acknowledgement of Paternity must be signed by both mother and father and filed with the Illinois Division of Vital Records. In cases where a father disputes he is the father or the father's identity is in question, a paternity lawsuit may be filed by the mother, alleged father or child.
When a genetic paternity test is positive, a father is determined to be a child's legal father. At that time, a father is able to petition for child custody or visitation rights. Additionally, a mother can take steps to obtain financial support from a legal father via child support payments.
Establishing paternity is important for a number of legal reasons. Additionally, every child deserves to know the identity of their biological father and every father and child should be afforded the opportunity to establish a relationship.
Source: Illinois Legal Aid, "Establishing Legal Paternity," 2014