When a child is born to unmarried parents, it is very beneficial to establish legal paternity. By doing so, the biological father of the child is recognized as the legal father, with all of the rights and responsibilities provided by law. There are several ways in which legal paternity may be established to provide for the best interests of the child. Unfortunately, there are also ways in which the system may be fraudulently used to force a man other than the biological father to assume financial responsibility for the child.
Illinois law provides for the establishment of legal paternity four different ways:
- Voluntary Acknowledgement of Paternity (VAP) Form: Both parents may sign the VAP form, often in the hospital immediately following the child’s birth. By signing the acknowledgment, both parents agree to support the child, and the father’s name is able to be added to the birth certificate.
- Marriage: Although the child may have been born before the parents were married, the subsequent marriage of the father and mother legally establishes paternity.
- Administrative Order: Unmarried parents can enlist the help of Child Support Services to determine or verify biological relationships. The agency, by virtue of its mission to ensure the financial support of children by their biological and legal parents, may enter an Administrative Paternity Order based on the findings.
- Paternity Action and Judicial Order: Nearly any affected party can file for a paternity action to be brought before the court. Based on the information presented the presiding judge may issue an order legally establishing paternity.
Parents and children alike may benefit from the establishment of legal paternity. Both parents assume a role in the support of the child, and closer bonds between the parents and children may be forged. In addition to closer familial relationships, the child may also qualify for certain benefits and programs through the legal father.
There are situations, of course, when the biological relationship between the father and child is uncertain. Most often, the mother will proceed in good faith to either determine the child’s true biological father, or the alleged father may agree to voluntarily accept responsibility despite the uncertainty. Sometimes, however, the mother may use Child Support Services or the court to seek an order to establish the paternity of a man she knows is not the biological father. A mother intentionally doing so commits paternity fraud.
Motivations for paternity fraud vary but may include covering up infidelity, trying to trap a man into marriage or because a man may be more likely to pay more in child support that the actual father. Whatever the reason, paternity fraud victimizes not only the man forced to support a child who not his own, but the biological father, the families, and the child.
It can be devastating to the legal father, his family, and the child to discover the relationship they may have built was based on a lie. This is in addition to any financial obligation fraudulently forced upon the legal father. Likewise, the biological father and his family may be potentially robbed of the opportunity to love and to assist in raising the child. There is also the concern that the biological father, while not knowing his true relationship to the child, may have moved on and started his own family, which may then be upset by discovery of the fraud committed years earlier.
If you are an unmarried parent and need help establishing legal paternity for your child, or you suspect you might be victim of paternity fraud contact an experienced DuPage County family law attorney. We will review your situation and make sure the rights of both you and your child are protected.