The Case for Establishing Legal Paternity
How do I go about establishing legal paternity? If your relationship is on the rocks, but you are unmarried, splitting up can be relatively uncomplicated from a legal standpoint. If there are children involved, however, the complication quotient ticks up considerably. What rights and responsibilities will now exist with regard to the children? Should parents stick to a “gentleman’s agreement,” or is it worthwhile to establish legal parentage?
Potential Paternity Disputes
The fact of the matter is, disputes are always a possibility somewhere down the road, and if a father’s paternity is not legally established, he may find himself with no rights should a mother choose to move away, eliminate visitation options, or make decisions to which the father may object. As a father, are you willing to take that risk?
Fathers are Important
There is no question as to the important role fathers can play in their children’s lives. One report notes that kids whose fathers are involved from an early age tend to experience a greater degree of emotional security, more confidence in their ability to explore the world, and higher-quality social connections. In the long term, children of nurturing fathers have been found to show higher verbal and intellectual skills and better academic achievement than peers without nurturing fathers.
Establishing Legal Paternity
The benefits of legally naming the parents of a child can be significant for all parties involved. In addition to the emotional benefit of knowing one’s parents, it affords children important legal rights, including:
- Financial maintenance: Legal parents are required by law to support their children, and can be criminally charged for failure to do so;
- Access to the medical and historical records of the family;
- Inheritance rights;
- The potential to claim social security and/or veteran’s benefits when applicable;
- Legal documents related to the family;
- A birth certificate naming both parents.
As for the father, establishing paternity can be essential in securing visitation or custody benefits.
How to Establish Parentage
Even with biological proof of paternity, unmarried fathers have no legal rights related to their children until legal paternity is established, meaning custody, visitation, and child support will not be court-ordered requirements. There are two key ways for fathers to gain legal parentage:
- By voluntarily signing a Declaration of Paternity form;
- By getting a court order and completing a DNA test.
Once Legal Paternity is Recognized
As soon as the legal forms are complete, a court can order joint/sole custody and/or visitation. Custody arrangements will be broken into two categories:
- Physical custody: Determining where the child will reside;
- Legal custody: Determining who will make key decisions related to the child’s welfare (related to school, religion, medical issues, etc.)
The court is required to make custodial decisions based on the best interests of the child. That means that both legal parents are on equal footing as custody matters are determined.
If you are an unmarried father who is concerned about your legal rights and responsibilities to your progeny, the experienced legal team at Beck Law P.C., can help. Do you live in Sonoma County, Mendocino County, or Lake County California? Contact us in Santa Rosa today to schedule a confidential consultation.