Many parents—fathers and mothers alike—underestimate the importance of establishing paternity. Paternity can allow both parents to better care for their child or children.
Understanding how to pursue paternity and its benefits can help both parents feel more confident and secure in their child's future moving forward.
The Benefits of Paternity (and How to Establish it)
Establishing paternity has a multitude of benefits for a child, such as:
- Helping a child find their identity. For children who don't know or have a close relationship with their father, establishing paternity can enable them to feel more secure in their identity. If the father comes from a different culture than the mother or current parent, establishing paternity can also allow the child to explore their cultural heritage.
- Paving the way for a meaningful father-child relationship. If the father has been out of the picture but wants to be more involved with the child, establishing paternity is a good first step.
- Providing financial support to the child. Legal parents are responsible for ensuring that their children receive the support and care they need. Establishing paternity can result in child custody or support orders that help the child develop a better quality of life. Additionally, the father's benefits (such as life insurance, veteran's benefits, Social Security, and pension) might also carry over to the child. Establishing paternity also makes the child an heir, giving them inheritance rights if the father passes away or is medically incapacitated.
- Understanding the child's medical history. A variety of common medical issues (diabetes, for example) are hereditary. Establishing paternity allows a child to gain access to the father's medical information, which can be invaluable. Preparing to take care of genetic medical issues in advance can help a child live a healthier (and happier) life.
- Keeping the father in the loop. The court notifies paternal fathers of events such as a relocation or a custody order modification request. Legal fathers can also access information about their child such as school, medical, and religious records. Determining paternity can help the father play a more active role in their child's success.
In Illinois, there are three ways to establish paternity:
- Voluntary Acknowledgment of Paternity (VAP). At birth, the child's parents can both sign a Voluntary Acknowledgment of Paternity Form in the hospital. Signing the form and filing it with the Department of Healthcare and Family Services (HFS) bypasses the court, making both parents at the hospital legal parents to the child.
- Administrative Paternity Order. Generally, mothers seek an Administrative Paternity Order when trying to obtain child support payments from the father. The HFS works with the mother and alleged father to establish paternity and issue an Administrative Paternity Order when necessary.
- Order of Paternity. Filing for an Order of Paternity involves the judicial system, establishing paternity through a court order.
The HFS plays a vital role in paternity cases. The HFS can schedule DNA testing to establish paternity, or declare an individual the legal father by default if they fail to attend a scheduled DNA test.