How to ensure Parental rights and responsibilities of unwed fathers in the Lehigh Valley
Having children outside of marriage is an increasingly common occurrence. While there are many reasons for couples to decide to have children outside of marriage, in Pennsylvania, some extra steps are required to ensure that an unwed father's legal rights and responsibilities to his child are preserved.
The easiest was to do this is to have the biological father put his name on the child's birth certificate. A father's name will not be included on the birth certificate of a child of unmarried parents unless: 1) the father and mother have signed a voluntary acknowledgement of paternity or; 2) a court or administrative agency has issued an adjudication of paternity. The father of a child born to an unmarried woman may file an acknowledgement of paternity form with the Department of Welfare. This form must include the consent of the child's mother, supported by her witnessed statement. A hospital must provide the birth parents with an opportunity to complete the acknowledgement of paternity at the time of the child's birth.
The hospital has a duty to provide information explaining the benefits of establishing paternity, the availability of paternity establishment services, and the availability of child support enforcement agencies. The hospital must also provide written and oral notice to the birth mother and birth father regarding the alternatives to signing the acknowledgement, the legal consequences of signing the acknowledgement, and the responsibilities that arise from signing the acknowledgement.
Once the acknowledgement of paternity is filed, the father shall have all the rights and duties to the child, and the child shall have all the rights and duties to the father, as if the father had been married to the mother at the time of birth. An acknowledgement of paternity constitutes conclusive evidence of paternity. Either signatory has a right to rescind the acknowledgement within: 1) 60 days or; 2) the date of an administrative or judicial proceeding relating to the child; whichever is earlier. After the expiration of the 60-day period, an acknowledgement of paternity can only be challenged on the basis of fraud, duress, or material mistake of fact.
If the mother of the child refuses to join the acknowledgement of paternity, the Department of Welfare shall index the father's acknowledgement and the mother's refusal as a claim of paternity. A claim of paternity confers no rights to the putative father with regards to the child, except that the putative father shall be entitled to notice if there is any proceeding brought to terminate any parental rights as to the child.
However, there are times when parties do not agree about who the child's father is. Where a child is born out of wedlock, and the paternity is disputed, the child's mother or the putative father has the option of bringing a civil action to determine paternity. Such an action must be commenced within 18 years of the child's birth. Paternity must be proven by the party seeking a declaration of paternity.
Proof of paternity does not necessarily require genetic testing, but the Court or domestic relations section must require the child and the parties submit to genetic testing on the request of either party. If the test results indicate a 99% or greater probability that the putative father is the father of the child, it creates a presumption of paternity that can only be rebutted by showing that the genetic testing was unreliable. If genetic testing is ordered, it is paid for by the domestic relations section, subject to recoupment from the father if paternity is established.
If you are a father seeking to preserve your parental rights, or you are a mother seeking to ensure your child's father is legally recognized, please contact one of our experienced Family Law and Custody attorneys today to set up a free consultation.
The foregoing is intended to be a general discussion of the law and is not intended to be construed as legal advice. If you have a specific question, please contact our office to speak with an attorney.