An unmarried father has few parental rights until the State considers the father to be the child’s “legal” father. Fathers, or those who deny being the father, have a few options to protect their rights:
- Acknowledge paternity by signing a legal document called a “Recognition of Parentage” (ROP), or
- Have a judge determine that you are the “legal” father and issue a court Order, or
- Deny paternity if the child’s mother wrongfully accuses you of fathering the child.
Acknowledge Paternity by Signing a “Recognition of Parentage” Document
If you are the biological father of a child, then you have the right to see your child and be a part of the child’s life. You want to have an equal say in important and everyday issues that affect your child, including medical care, school choices and financial concerns. Once you become the legal father, you are legally obligated to support your child.
To acknowledge your paternity, as the biological father, you should work with a lawyer who is familiar with Recognition of Parentage matters. Before signing, it is very important that you understand the consequences of doing so and what rights you may be giving up in exchange for acknowledging paternity.
Both parents must sign this document. It is important to note that if your child’s mother is married to another man, the ROP form alone may be insufficient to establish your paternity.
The ROP option avoids a lengthy and expensive paternity-determination hearing. In exchange, you lose the right to obtain genetic testing, have an attorney represent you in court, or request a trial to prove paternity. In this situation, consulting with an experienced attorney is very important.
Obtaining a Court Order for Paternity
You should be aware that once you sign the ROP, you are responsible for supporting the child financially. However, the child’s mother will still have sole physical and legal custody. The ROP does not grant parenting time or custody rights. You will have to file a case in family court and obtain a court order granting you custody and parenting time.
In most cases, it is the mother, father or county that can ask for a court order to determine paternity. The father and the child will have genetic testing to determine paternity. During the hearing, the judge will address the issues of physical custody, parenting time and other parent-child-related determinations. You, the child’s mother or the county can file a paternity case in court until the child turns 18.
You may have had a relationship with a woman who is asking you to acknowledge that you are the father of her child and to pay child support. Whether you remain in a relationship with her or not, the mother will want to resolve the issue of the child’s paternity. If she claims that you are the father, you should consult an attorney right away to protect yourself. You can quickly resolve the question of paternity by taking a quick, reliable DNA test offered by court-approved testing companies.
Confused About Which Route You Should Take?
If you have questions about any of these processes, contact a lawyer for experienced and honest legal help with any paternity issue. We will explain your options and your legal rights to help you.