Children are born to married and unmarried parents alike. When a child is born to married parents, the law automatically assumes that the mother’s husband is the child’s biological and legal father. But when a child is born to unmarried parents, the child does not have a legal father until paternity is established. What does this mean?
When a child does not have a legal father, the family court cannot issue any orders for child support or child custody. So, while a biological, unmarried father can voluntarily help support his child, he is under no legal obligation to. The mother cannot demand child support from him until paternity is established.
Beyond that, the father has no rights to visitation or child custody either. The mother may voluntarily let the presumed father see his child but if she changes her mind or if she doesn’t want him to see his child, he can’t force her to.
Paternity is About More Than Child Support
Once paternity is established, the court can issue orders for child support. If the father doesn’t pay his court-ordered child support, his driver’s license can be suspended, he can be denied a U.S. passport, his tax refund can be taken, the failure to pay can be reported on his credit, his lottery winnings can be taken, his wages can be garnished, and liens can be placed on any real estate that he owns.
While establishing paternity is very powerful when it comes to the enforcement of child support orders, it’s about more than just child support. There are many benefits for the child when paternity is established, such as:
- The child knows who their father is
- The child gains access to family medical history
- The child gains inheritance rights
- The child gains rights to Social Security and veterans benefits
- The child can be financially supported by two parents instead of one, which means a better quality of life
- The child can get medical and life insurance from either parent if they are available
- The child can have their father’s name on their birth certificate
There are two common ways to establish paternity in New York: 1) both parents can voluntarily sign an Acknowledgement of Paternity (AOP) form shortly after the child’s birth, or 2) the mother or presumed father can file a petition with the court for a DNA test (genetic test).
If there is any doubt about who the child’s father is, the parents should NOT sign the AOP form. Instead, they should file a paternity action with the court. Twenty-one years is a long time for a man to pay child support for a child who is not his.
If you need to file a paternity action or if you have a child support case, contact Jason M. Barbara & Associates, P.C. for a free consultation.