Men often assume that when their child is born, they are automatically given parental rights. This is not so, and the process is more complicated. Even in the simplest of situations – a husband impregnates his wife, she delivers, and the couple stays together – a man must sign paperwork before he is legally recognized as a father.
There is a big difference between maternity and paternity, legally speaking. In fact, the term “maternity” is rarely used. The divide comes in determining a child’s lineage. When a woman gives birth, there is no question that she is the mother. Unless she’s carrying as a surrogate, everyone knows she’s the mom. Biological fatherhood can be more nebulous.
This becomes a problem when you are the biological father, but someone else gets paternity. When a married woman has a child, her husband can be granted automatic paternity, no questions asked. As long as the husband signs the birth certificate, he’s the legal father. If that’s actually your child, you could be in for legal strife in the future.
Not all scenarios are this extreme. Sometimes, a couple is unmarried or has split up, and the father simply hasn’t gotten around to establishing paternity. This is a dangerous situation for that father. No matter how well he and the mother get along, he should file for paternity right away.
Here are the benefits of establishing paternity.
You Are Always the Father
This is the strongest, most important reason to establish paternity. Paternity gives you virtually inalienable parenthood. You can lose your parental rights only if the state deems you an unfit parent.
Don’t let that term scare you. Being “unfit” does not mean that you forgot to pick the child up from school. An “unfit parent” is someone who essentially endangers their child. Removing parental rights from this person is the equivalent of saving the child’s life. If you care enough to establish paternity, this does not describe you.
You Can Participate in Child Support
Our culture has given child support a bad reputation. It’s often seen as an overly burdensome, unfair payment that’s forced onto a father. This is the wrong way to perceive it.
Both parents contribute to child support. Support decisions are based on the incomes of each parent. The custodial parent, the one who keeps the kids for a longer amount of time, financially contributes through their regular income. The other parent sends payments to the kids based on their amount of time with them.
“Payments to the kids” is an important phrase to remember. Child support does not go to the other parent. It is strictly for use on the children. If a parent is spending child support on themselves, they can face severe legal penalties.
Now that we’ve cleared up some negative views of child support, let’s explore why you, as a father, want to pay it. Child support allows you to contribute to your child’s well-being, no matter what. Wherever life takes you, no matter how far away you are, you will be actively involved in caring for your children.
Sometimes, bad blood and resentment build between parents. The custodial parent may decide that they want nothing from the other, including child support. As the legal father, you cannot be blocked from paying child support. In fact, if the other parent refuses payment, they could get into legal trouble. Child support is an integral part of your legal rights as a parent.
Contributing to Healthcare
As a father, you have access to your child’s medical records. You may communicate with their doctors and stay updated on any health concerns. You are included. Furthermore, your medical history is accessible for the child’s treatment, should the need arise. You can also include your children in your health benefits, even if you are not the custodial parent.
Creating Emotional Bonds
After paternity is established, many people feel a new level of comfort and security. This can happen for both father and child. Paternity doesn’t necessarily alter your relationship. You both already know who the parent is, but making it official, that can create an undefinable peace.
Establishing paternity also eliminates vagueness. It keeps everything clearly defined. Let’s say your child has a stepfather who sees the child more often than you do. This person can sometimes overstep their bounds, attempting to make fatherly decisions beyond their rights. Paternity gives you legal ground to halt such actions, making it clear that you are the only legal father in the child’s life.
How to Establish Paternity
For California residents, the easiest way to establish paternity is through the Voluntary Declaration of Paternity. This is a stress-free, conflict-free solution. Both parents sign the document, and fatherhood becomes official. This should be signed at the birth or soon after. If you wait too long, paternity becomes much more complicated.
Going Through the Court
There may be times where you must establish paternity later in the child’s life. Perhaps there was an earlier mistake that needs correcting, or maybe you just learned of the child’s existence. Whatever the case, you can file for paternity later in the child’s life. However, this road could be much harder to travel. Courts make decisions based on their opinion of the child’s best interests. They could potentially deny your paternity if they think your inclusion would be a detriment to the child’s life.
Paternity could also be forced on an unsuspecting man. A mother or a child over 12 can claim that you are a father. For some, this is welcomed, joyful news. For others, this could be unwelcomed at best or a completely false claim at worst.
In either case, there is likely to be much more to do to progress the claim. Courts can order DNA tests, for example. If you are fighting for paternity or denying a false claim, don’t attempt to go it alone. Seek legal counsel. They can keep the process running smoothly and fight for you when obstacles arise.
If you need help with paternity issues, contact our firm today for a free consultation. You can call us at (559) 900-1263 or reach us online.