Finding out you are expecting a baby can bring out a flood of emotions. The initial news can be both joyful and scary. Many couples plan on having children while many others find out unexpectedly. If you are no longer in a relationship, having relationship issues, or have no intentions of staying with your partner, the news of expecting a child may not be pleasant. Furthermore, if you are uncertain if you are the child’s father, the news can be frightening and downright shocking.
Although statistics tend to vary slightly, roughly half of all children born in the USA are born to unmarried parents. Though single parenthood is both common and accepted, that still does not alleviate the sadness and angst many parents experience when faced with the possibility that they may be primarily raising a child alone or with limited support (emotionally and financially) from the other parent.
When uncertainty about paternity of the child exists, there are three different ways to establish paternity in Illinois:
1.) If the couple is married when the child is born, the husband is legally presumed to be the father of the child (in Illinois).
2.) Establishing parentage by consent, through signing a Voluntary Acknowledgement of Paternity (V.A.P.)
A Voluntary Acknowledgment of Paternity is a mutually signed, legally binding agreement that establishes paternity. There is a specific document that unmarried parents sign directly at the hospital called the Voluntary Acknowledgment of Paternity Form that is necessary in order to put the father’s name on the birth certificate (The mother’s name is automatically put on the birth certificate as delivering the baby is a clear indication she is the biological mother).
A Voluntary Acknowledgement of Paternity does not address issues of visitation, support, or joint custody. Further, it is important to note that it can be difficult to “undo” a Voluntary Acknowledgement of Paternity, and a Voluntary Acknowledgment of Paternity should not be signed unless the father is certain that the child is his. Being a father is a lifelong commitment entailing unequivocal emotional and financial support—and this should not be taken lightly.
3.) Order of Parentage – If a father did not sign a Voluntary Acknowledgment of Paternity and is not on the child’s birth certificate, either parent may file a Petition to Establish Parentage, to obtain a court order establishing that the alleged father is actually the father of the child. At this point, if there is any uncertainty in regards to the paternity of the child, either parent may request a DNA test, or the Court may order one.
After paternity is established, the court may establish child support and address visitation and any other issues relating to the child.