When a married couple chooses to have a child, both parents are presumed under the law to be the legal parents without any documentation to that effect from the court. However, unmarried parents don’t share that presumption. When a child is born to two single people, the father must legally establish paternity before any rights and responsibilities can be bestowed.
But even if the father has little interest in being involved in the child’s life now, there are other reasons for establishing paternity:
Child Support As the father of the child, the father has an obligation to support that child until he or she reaches the age of majority (18 in most states).
Health Insurance Once paternity has been legally established, the father will be able to include his child on his health insurance policy. This is especially important in light of the large number of children in the United States that are currently uninsured. Taking the steps required to provide health insurance ensures that your child will be able to receive the proper medical care that he or she needs.
Children are entitled to receive benefits from the government under certain circumstances. If the father was a veteran, the child may be able to receive disability and/or death benefits from Veteran’s Administration. Likewise, Social Security also pays benefits to minor children of deceased parents so it’s to the child’s financial benefit to have the biological father legally documented.
Unless a child is specifically named in the will of his or her father, he or she cannot receive any inheritance if paternity has not been established. Paternity also enables the child to receive inheritances from other family members on the father’s side when the relative passes on without a will.
In order for a child to be adopted by a step-parent or other guardian, both biological parents must generally agree to the adoption. If paternity has not been established in court, the father will be unable to contest any actions for adoption.
In addition to legal issues, there are also some personal yet equally important reasons to establish paternity:
There may come a time when the child is faced with a medical decision that hinges on his or her family’s medical history. Establishing paternity gives the child the full family picture and enables him or her to make an informed decision regarding medical treatments.
In addition to the biological father, the child also likely has cousins, grandparents, aunts, uncles and other relatives from the father’s side of the family. As children get older, they become interested in learning more about “where they came from”. Establishing paternity gives the child the opportunity to explore their family tree from both the mother and the father.
Things Can Change
If relationships are strained now it doesn’t necessarily mean that things won’t change in the future. They can, and they frequently do. Establishing paternity leaves the door open for the child and the father to reconnect at a later time and possibly build a lasting relationship. Without establishing paternity, the child may never know who his or her biological father is.
Establishing paternity offers a number of benefits for both the child and the biological father. And fortunately, paternity is fairly easy to determine
If you have questions regarding the paternity of your child, you should talk to an attorney to discuss your options. You may also want to read about the basics of paternity testing. For more on this topic, you may also enjoy this book on the rights of unmarried parents .