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Child Custody Issues: Does It Matter If I’m on the Birth Certificate?

13 Mar 2019, by Brandy Benefield in Child Custody, Family Law

Written by Timothy Czekaj

A birth certificate is an official document, so it’s understandable that you’d expect it to have some legal effect on child custody issues. However, a birth certificate by itself doesn’t necessarily grant any custody rights to the person named as the father when the child’s parents are unmarried. Instead, the key is establishing paternity under Pennsylvania law. Establishing legal paternity allows you to begin the process to exercise parental rights, including child custody. It also involves significant responsibilities, which is why it’s essential to consult with a knowledgeable child custody lawyer about your situation.

At Czekaj Law, LLC, we understand that paternity is a personal, important issue. As such, if you’re dealing with a paternal rights issue as it relates to custody, we recommend reaching out to our team for help. To schedule a free consultation of your case, contact us today at (717) 275-9770.

What Paternity Means for Child Custody

The legal effect of establishing paternity, either through voluntary or involuntary means, is that your name can be placed on the birth certificate. You have all the same rights as a father who was married to the child’s mother at the time of birth, including child custody and visitation.

Still, in the event of a separation, having these rights doesn’t equal a determination on a custody arrangement or visitation schedule. It’s still necessary to have a court order outlining the specifics of child custody and visitation, either through a hearing or by agreement with the mother. Any time these important parental rights are at stake, you should work with a child custody attorney who can offer help and represent you in court.

How to Establish Paternity in Pennsylvania

When a child is born to a married woman, there is a legal presumption in Pennsylvania that the husband is the father. For two unmarried individuals, the situation is slightly more complicated. There’s no legal relationship between you and the child, so paternity is established through one of two methods:

Voluntary Paternity

Under Pennsylvania law, you can openly admit you’re the father of a child by signing an Acknowledgment of Paternity (AOP). The mother must also sign her consent on the form, and a third party must witness your signatures. The AOP is a free form and doesn’t require court approval, so you can even execute it at the hospital after your child’s birth.

If the mother refuses to sign the AOP, you do have options through a claim of paternity. You’ll still execute the AOP, and you’ll receive certain legal notices related to the child. However, you don’t have any parental rights regarding child custody unless you request genetic testing through the Pennsylvania Domestic Relations Section (DRS).

Involuntary Paternity

If either parent disputes a child’s paternity, it’s necessary to go to court. The process is considered involuntary, because one person is forcefully bringing the other before a judge to determine paternity. The possible scenarios through a Petition to Determine Paternity are:

  • The mother doesn’t agree that you’re the father and didn’t sign the AOP, even after you did.
  • You’re contesting whether you’re the father, and you never signed an AOP.

In either situation, the court will require genetic testing to establish paternity through scientific proof. After the proceeding, the judge will enter an Order of Paternity stating the outcome.

Contact a Child Custody Lawyer for Help

Regardless of whether you want to establish paternity or contest it, legal representation is essential. Child custody encompasses a wide range of parental rights and responsibilities, so it’s important to understand the implications. If you have questions about how paternity affects child custody issues, call Czekaj Law, LLC at (717) 275-9770 to schedule a free consultation. Our attorney can provide more information after reviewing the details of your case. Contact us today to learn more.

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