When a child is born to unmarried parents, it is important for the father to take the proper steps to be legally acknowledged as a biological parent. This is important for both the child and each parent, as most states give unmarried fathers the same custody rights as married fathers. The law varies slightly in every state, so it is important to check the paternity laws where you live. As an example, in Michigan, the Genetic Parentage Act of 2014 says that “genetic testing that determines the man is the biological father of a child under this act may be the basis for court-ordered child support, custody, or parenting time without further adjudication under the paternity act.” If you are seeking to have visitation rights with the child or wish to be formally recognized as the child’s biological father, it is important to be aware of the steps you need to take in order to achieve that.
What Rights Does a Father Have If He Is Not on the Birth Certificate?
If a man is not added to a child’s birth certificate as the father, the mother automatically receives sole custody of the child. This means that the father has no visitation or custody rights, and nothing can be done if the mother refuses to allow the father access to the child.
In Michigan, if the mother was married during the birth of a child (i.e. the mother was a married woman who became pregnant with another man’s child), the child’s father has no visitation or custody rights unless paternity was mutually established prior to birth.
How Long Does a Father Have to Establish Paternity?
Many states like Michigan allow a parent or another party to establish paternity up until the child turns 18, but the statute of limitations varies a lot, depending on where you reside. In Ohio, paternity can be established until the child turns 23, while Wyoming and North Dakota offer no clear limitation under the statute. Florida allows paternity rights to be claimed up to four years after the child reaches the age of majority (18).
Alabama law allows the child to attempt to establish paternity at any time up until the death of the father. Missouri may require back payment of up to five years of child support if a person is determined to be the biological father. In any case, it is in the child’s and the parent’s best interest for paternity to be established as early as possible.
What Are the Benefits of Establishing Paternity?
There are several benefits of establishing paternity, not only for the father but also for the child and the other parent.
Besides emotional and psychological reasons for a child to be able to know who their father is and to have a relationship with both sides of the family, there are other benefits such as:
For the child:
- Being eligible to receive benefits from both parents such as health insurance, inheritances, social security, life insurance procees and pensions.
- Being able to receive financial support from both parents.
- Having access to the medical history of both families to better diagnose or prevent health issues.
- Getting the same rights and benefits of those of a child born to married parents.
For the father:
- Enables the father to have legal custodial rights over the child.
- Allows the father to add his name to the child’s birth certificate.
- Allows the father to have visitation rights with the child.
For the mother:
- Enables the mother to seek financial support from the father to share the cost of raising a child.
- Provides the child with the ability to inherit from the father.
At ADAM, we assist Michigan fathers seeking to establish paternal rights and can help you take the right steps to enforce your parental rights and be a part of your child’s life. There are a few different ways to claim your parental rights, and the exact steps may vary from state to state, but we will use Michigan as an example to illustrate what you should do.
How Do You Establish Paternity if You Are Not Married?
If you had a child with someone you were not married to, you can go about establishing paternity in a voluntary or involuntary way. Both unmarried parents can voluntarily sign and file a legal document called an Affidavit of Parentage that says the man is the biological father. The document will need to be signed by a qualified witness or notary. Typically, this has no cost when done at the hospital following the birth of the child, and the father’s name will be included in the birth certificate. If this is done after the birth certificate has been issued, parents will need to make a request to add the father’s name to the birth certificate and possibly pay a fee to the local registrar office.
Establishing paternity involuntarily happens if paternity of a child is in doubt or disputed. In this case, a court will need to be involved. The judge will listen to both parents and may require genetic testing (DNA) to establish paternity. A paternity action can be filed by a man who believes he is the biological father of the child, by a pregnant mother seeking parentage or by a child looking to determine paternity. This process usually requires the help of a skilled family law and father’s rights attorney in order to maximize the chances of a favorable outcome. If you have questions about establishing father’s rights or need help, contact the family law attorneys at ADAM to learn your options.