The Importance of Establishing Paternity for Unwed Fathers


If you have fathered a child and are not married to the mother, it can be very important to formally establish your paternity of the child. Perhaps the most important reason is that doing so will protect and ensure your ability to be present in your child’s life. The second is failing to do so can have significant financial consequences.

Establishing paternity is a different procedure from state to state. Typically, some act or factor will create a presumption of paternity, but this is often distinguishable from being declared a child’s legal parent.  Depending on the state, these presumptions can be created, without limitation and for example, by holding the child out in the community as yours, being named on the birth certificate, signing an affidavit of paternity or being the biological parent.

It is usually necessary for there to be an existing presumption of paternity as a basis to pursuing or securing a legal finding that you are the child’s parent.  The factors creating the presumption need to be laid out when a formal action is started.  In almost every state, through a paternity action, a father of a child can secure time with his child as well as establish a child support order.

It is not uncommon for men to simply not pursue any formal declaration of their paternity of a child they know or suspect to be theirs.  Reasons for not doing so vary from being intimidated by the system, being afraid of having to provide financial support or simply not feeling any real need either because they aren’t interested in having a relationship with the child or they already have a relationship with the child so they feel formal recognition is unnecessary.

However, without a formal legal declaration that you are the parent of a child, your presence in that child’s life is vulnerable to complete and immediate severing. Without an order saying when you get to see your child, the mother of that child can prevent contact at any time and for any reason. As a paternity action can take months or even years to complete, the disruption can be very damaging to the father-child relationship.

Many men decide not to pursue a formal finding of paternity because they wish to avoid a financial obligation. However, many, if not all, states allow a mother to pursue child support as long as 18 or even 21 years after the child is born. And that order can be for child support BACK TO THE CHILD’S BIRTH.

We have seen cases where someone is being pursued for 18 or even 21 years of back child support.  This can truly be financially devastating. Further, those orders will often be based on current earnings, even though at the child’s birth you may have been earning substantially less, and as a result, might have paid less in support.  Further, many states allow a child to pursue a parent for child support, some actions can be started anytime before the child turns 21.

For these reasons, it really is important if you or suspect you have a child out there, you should consult an attorney in your state about the situation so you can make the best, fully informed, decision for you, your child, and your life.


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