Establishing paternity helps mothers and fathers alike. Many paternity claims are filed by women who want to establish the paternity of a child born out of wedlock. Establishing paternity can also help men seeking a relationship with children they believe to be theirs. For the child, it provides access to many rights and can have implications lasting a lifetime.
Fatherhood Definition in Illinois
Illinois’ definition for fatherhood doesn’t rely on paternity tests. It simply states that if the mother was married or in a civil union when her child was born, or within 300 days of the birth, the man in the equation is legally presumed to be the father. However, if the parents aren’t married or in a civil union when the child is born, the father’s name won’t be on the child’s birth certificate until paternity is established. In other words, he may not be considered the legal father of the child, even if the parents live together and plan to be married.
Why Paternity Matters
Establishing paternity gives children access to numerous rights and benefits, some of which can last into adulthood. These rights include:
- Financial security through child support;
- Social Security benefits from a deceased or disabled parent;
- Inheritance; and
- Health and life insurance benefits.
Both biological parents typically have the right to establish a relationship with their child. If a father wants custody or visitation rights, he needs to be recognized as one of the child’s legal parents. Paternity also matters in that it can provide the child an opportunity to obtain medical information about the father’s side someday.
How Is Paternity Established?
Generally, there are three ways to establish paternity in Illinois:
- VAP. The easiest way for parents to establish paternity is to complete a Voluntary Acknowledgement of Paternity (VAP) form at the hospital when the child is born. Parents can ask for the form when providing information for the child’s birth certificate. Hospital staff often help parents with this process and act as witnesses. The form must be completed before a witness and filed with the Department of Healthcare and Family Services.
If parents aren’t sure who the biological father of the child is, however, men are discouraged from signing the form until paternity is established through genetic testing.
- Paternity Order. An Administrative Paternity Order is typically entered when a mother is seeking child support payments from her child’s father. Both parents are legally responsible for supporting their child, regardless of their marital status. Once the father agrees to the test and paternity is established, his parental status is entered into the state’s child support services system.
In these cases, the mother might be trying to establish paternity as part of her request for governmental cash assistance.
- Court Order. When someone doesn’t initially cooperate or isn’t available, an order of paternity can be ordered by a court in response to a mother’s request. To get a court order, you must file a petition with your local court, which will consider the evidence to determine paternity. That evidence can include whether the father has been listed on the child’s birth certificate or the results of DNA testing.
DNA Paternity Tests
DNA testing is nearly 100 percent accurate in determining whether someone is a child’s biological father. These simple lab tests can be done using cheek swabs or blood tests of the potential father, the child, and the mother. Paternity is determined when the man’s genes match up with the half not associated with the mother’s genetic material. Various types of prenatal paternity tests also use DNA to determine fatherhood during pregnancy.
In many cases, courts will require genetic testing to help prove paternity. If the father previously lived in Illinois or the child was conceived there, the mother can file an action in the state’s court system requiring a paternity test, even if he lives out of state.
When Alleged Fathers Don’t Cooperate
Young fathers in particular often avoid confirming their paternity. If a DNA test is conducted without the father’s knowledge, the results can’t be used in a court of law unless he is deceased. In most cases, as long as the father is alive, the mother will use a court order for DNA testing to prove the father’s identity. If the father is no longer alive, DNA testing can be performed on an immediate family member of his to make a determination.
If the alleged father refuses to take a paternity test, the mother can file a petition for paternity with the court, which would mandate that he agree to a paternity test. If he still refuses he can be held in contempt. Most men eventually agree, as the consequences are serious and can range from monetary sanctions to criminal charges.
Issues involving immigration and adoption can also require a DNA paternity test. If you need help establishing paternity, contact The Law Office of David A. King, P.C. to ensure that your interests are protected. We are experienced in representing both mothers and fathers in paternity actions. Reach out for a complimentary consultation at (630) 504-7210.