Establishing paternity is required in order to establish parental rights if the parties were not married when the child or children were born.
Simply having a DNA test performed and signing the birth certificate are not sufficient to legally establish paternity.
Establishing paternity protects the child’s best interests.
Every child has a right to be legally acknowledged by his or her father.
Equally important is ensuring the child is eligible to receive any inheritance and survivor benefits from the father, such as:
- Social security;
- Veteran’s benefits.
Paternity should be established immediately after the child is born. When the parents are legally married, the child is presumed to be the child of the father and paternity is immediately established at birth.
However, if the child is born out of wedlock, the parties must take legal action to establish paternity rights and legitimize the child.
There are different steps to take when the parents are not married.
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services requires that all states offer unmarried couples a chance to establish paternity by signing an acknowledgement of paternity at the hospital or at a later date.
In the State of Georgia this is called a Voluntary Paternity Acknowledgement Form.
This form can be completed at the hospital when the child is born.
It can also be completed at the State Office of Vital Records in Atlanta or the Vital Records Office in the county where the child was born. Both parents’ signatures must be witnessed and notarized. Afterwards, the completed form is sent to the State Putative Father Registry.
The state’s Division of Child Support Services can also establish paternity through an Administrative or Superior Court Order, depending on your county of residence. Genetic testing is available through this process.
There are fees for genetic testing and processing applications.
However, taking this route still may not provide you with all the benefits of a father who has established paternity through the Superior Court.
Therefore, the best way to establish paternity is to file an action with the Superior Court. Either a Mother, or Father, may initiate an action to legitimize the child and establish paternity rights. Through that process, the court will also establish child support, custody and parenting time.
LEGAL DISPUTES OVER PATERNITY
Most legal disputes regarding paternity arise over the one particular parent’s obligation to provide child support. A parent’s refusal to sign a paternity acknowledgement does not release them from their responsibility to provide child support.
If unmarried parents have established paternity with a signed Voluntary Paternity Acknowledgement Form, the state’s Division of Child Support Services will enforce child support obligations and the provision of health insurance for the child.
In cases where paternity is contested or uncertain a man should not sign an acknowledgment of paternity.
Doing so will make the father liable for child support and he may be required to reimburse the state for any public assistance until paternity can be verified or pay back child support.
A father’s parental rights can also be the focus of legal disputes. Without clear establishment of paternity, a father may have no legal standing to petition for visitation or custody or oppose an adoption.
Waiting until there is a custody dispute or pending adoption to acknowledge paternity could make it difficult to establish paternity. In this situation, it must be clear that there has been an ongoing relationship with the child.
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An experienced divorce attorney can assist you in a legal dispute over paternity.