Rights After Establishing Paternity

When children are born outside of marriage, it may be necessary to take extra steps to establish paternal rights. If paternity is not in dispute, this can be as simple as signing the birth certificate or providing other written acknowledgement.

Disputed situations are more complex and may require legal intervention. Requirements differ by state, and most states offer resources to assist fathers seeking to establish paternity rights. Once this process is complete, men are entitled to all of the rights and responsibilities that come along with fatherhood.

Establishing Paternity

Once you have met your state's requirements for establishing paternity, you can move forward with the many joys and duties of parenthood. Initially, the most common items to consider are as follows:

  • Child's Family Name (Last Name)
  • Visitation
  • Child Support
  • Health Insurance and Uncovered Medical Expenses

You and the child's mother may be able to settle the details of your co-parenting agreement without involving the legal system. If so, you can ensure that the agreement stays in force by submitting it to the courts for review using the standard process described below. The court will create a consent order, which gives your agreement the same authority as any other court order, protecting you if future disagreements come up.

Petitioning for Your Paternity Rights

It is common to run into differences on these issues that cannot be resolved without court intervention. If you can afford legal representation, hiring an attorney experienced in your state's family laws can make the process easier for you. However, you are not required to engage an attorney to petition for your paternal rights. You can represent yourself in the court system by filing your paperwork "pro se." Pro se is the Latin term used in the legal system for representing yourself.

Locate your state family court website, which lists specific instructions for filing a motion for paternal rights. In many states, you can download the forms and complete them at home, then take them to court to file. You can expect to pay a filing fee ranging from $25 to several hundred dollars depending on your state. Note that some states require a single form that encompasses all paternal rights, but some require separate forms for child support, visitation and miscellaneous issues.

Paternal Rights When You and Your Child Live in Different States

If you and your child live in different states, take special care to ensure that you file your documents in the correct family court. Generally, you should plan to file in the state where your child resides. However, there are exceptions to this rule in certain circumstances. For example, if there is an emergency situation where you feel that your child is in danger, the court in your home state can assert temporary jurisdiction for the purpose of hearing and deciding your petition.