Voluntary Acknowledgement of Paternity
In my previous post on Paternity issues, I mentioned that there are two ways for an individual to be established as a child’s parent: voluntarily or by court order. This post explains the process of voluntarily acknowledging paternity, and the rights and responsibilities that come along with this acknowledgement.
Your first opportunity to acknowledge your paternity takes place at the hospital when your child is born. At this point, both parents may sign a notarized “Acknowledgment of Parentage” form . If both parents sign this form (and neither rescinds their acknowledgement within 60 days), the acknowledgement has the same legal effect as an Order of Paternity. It is important to note that there is only a 60 day window for rescission. This is why it is so important that both parents be certain about the acknowledgement prior to signing.
If you voluntarily acknowledge your paternity and 60 days pass, establishing yourself as anything other than your child’s parent is incredibly difficult. There is only a one year window where the courts will allow a change to be made, and even then, they will only allow changes if a parent can show that the voluntary acknowledgment was the result of fraud, duress, or a material mistake of fact. For the record, foregoing Genetic Marker Testing because you were certain of the fact you were the father is not a material mistake of fact.
Once you have voluntary acknowledged paternity, you are that child’s parent, regardless of whether or not that is the biological truth. This comes with all the attendant rights and responsibilities and should not be taken lightly.
Rights and Responsibilities of a Parent
Being legally recognized as a child’s parent comes with a number of rights and responsibilities. Key to all of these is one idea: the best interest of your child. All children have the same rights when it comes to their parents, regardless of his or her parents’ marital status at the time he or she was born.
Being legally recognized as a child’s parent means that you can now seek visitation with and/or custody of your child. Until the court enters an order to the contrary, when parents are unwed, the mother has sole physical and legal custody of the child by default. While a court may be hesitant to change this arrangement (as stability is typically in the best interest of a child), establishing some sort of visitation order shouldn’t be too difficult. Having a meaningful relationship with both parents benefits a child, and if both parents can get along well enough to work out the best schedule for everybody involved, even better! Visitation orders can range from a simple statement that the parents will work out something that works to incredibly detailed documents covering a host of provisions, like what time and where visits will take place and who will transport the child.
Along with the right to spend time with your child, being legally recognized as a child’s parent comes with the responsibility of providing your child with financial support. If you do not have physical custody of your child, the court will enter an order of support outlining the amount of child support and how it will be paid (how often, whether it will be paid directly to the other party or through the Department of revenue, etc.).
With these rights and responsibilities now at your feet, it’s important to at least consult with an attorney so that you can fully understand their scope.