In our society, it’s usually pretty easy to know the identity of a newborn child’s mother, for obvious reasons. What isn’t always certain is the identity of the father. “Paternity,” similar to the term “paternal,” refers to fatherhood. In the law, a paternity issue is concerned with the identity of the “legal” father. A legal father isn’t always a biological father, but a paternity action can make a man both the biological and legal father.
The Importance Of Child Paternity
Throughout western Pennsylvania and elsewhere, child paternity attorneys are faced with families where parents have made a beautiful child, but have never married. In many ways, this means that, legally speaking, the child does not have a father. This can have a huge impact upon the child’s rights, until paternity is established. For fathers, paternity definitively establishes rights to custody of the child, but it also means that the father is now obligated to pay child support, in Pennsylvania and even if the child moves to another state.
By establishing paternity, parents have legal rights:
- To place the father’s name on the birth certificate of the child
- To file for a court order for child support
- To file for a court order for child custody or visitation (physical custody)
- To have a say in many legal decisions regarding the child (legal custody)
There are many other benefits to establishing paternity. Paternity gives your child the same rights and benefits as children born to married parents, for example:
- Present legal proof of parental identity
- Obtain information regarding family medical history (inherited health problems)
- Assist in public records searches
- Gain medical or life insurance from either parent
- Have financial support from both parents, including child support, Social Security, veterans benefits and military allowances, and inheritance (especially when there is no last will and testament)
How To Establish Paternity Of A Child In Pennsylvania
The good news is, there are many ways to establish paternity of a child in western Pennsylvania, either voluntarily or involuntarily, up until the child’s 18th birthday. The easy and voluntary ways are:
- When the parents are married in Pennsylvania, paternity is automatic. The husband becomes the child’s legal father, even if he isn’t the biological father.
- When the parents aren’t married, the parents can still sign Voluntary Acknowledgment of Paternity form (Form PA-CS 611) (VAP), while at the hospital, in front of a witness. Once signed, that document establishes the identity of the legal father. Again, this includes situations where the legal father may not be the biological father of the child. Once signed, the VAP must be filed with, or sent to, the Department of Public Welfare/Department of Human Services.
If paternity is not established in one of these ways, mothers and fathers are often stuck with seeking court action to establish paternity. When this happens, a paternity attorney can assist you in securing your rights and your child’s rights to a legal father. The court has a few options for involuntary paternity proceedings:
- The mother and alleged (putative) father go to court, but decide to sign a consent agreement (order) on paternity, which establishes the identity of the legal father.
- The mother, father or a third party with certain rights can file a Petition to Establish Paternity (also called complaint or petition for genetic testing, or a petition to determine paternity). The petition or complaint asks the court to order genetic/DNA testing. If the court agrees following a hearing on the issue of paternity, the putative father and child must submit to genetic testing, no matter who disagrees.
- In a support action, the parties can request genetic/DNA testing, which they must pay for, but that will also establish the identity of the legal father.
Tips In Contested Paternity Actions In Pennsylvania
Sometimes only one parent wishes to sign the VAP form at the hospital. The signature of one parent does not identify a legal father, but it does create a record from which a legal father may be informed anytime something major happens with the child, for example, if the child is taken into custody by child protective custody, or where there is a proceeding for adoption of the child.
Where a man wishing to be the legal father, who is blocked by the mother, holds himself out as the father of the child and takes actions consistent with a father, the court will sometimes refuse to allow genetic testing, because the court believes that the father has acted in a way establishing that he should be the legal father, whether or not he is the biological father.
It’s a sad event, but it sometimes happens that a father is subject to fraud (a lie) about paternity of a child. Where that occurs, a man who may not be the biological father can sometimes convince the court that genetic testing should be allowed, even though the man held himself out as the legal father. To do this, there must be a fairly clear demonstration that the mother committed fraud by representing to the man that he was the biological father.