Why Do We Need to Establish Paternity in Pennsylvania?17 Aug 2022, by Child Custody, Child Support, Family Law in
Written by Timothy Czekaj
Parents have an obligation to support and care for their children, whether they’re a single parent, recently separated, or want time with their children. However, the matter can be complicated if you’re unsure who the children’s father is. Knowing that can affect decisions about child custody, visitation, or other rights associated with parenting.
What is Paternity?
When two married people have a child, they are considered the baby’s parents. When unmarried people parent a child, the mother is easy to distinguish. She physically carries and gives birth to the baby.
However, the father can be more challenging to pin down. Paternity must be established to exercise the rights and obligations of the father. A father who wishes to assert parental rights must establish paternity, and a mother seeking child support must know who the father is.
Establishing paternity is important because:
- The child is entitled to receive child support from the father
- The father has child visitation rights and/or child custody rights
- The father has rights to make decisions about the child’s upbringing through legal custody
- The child may be eligible for benefits, such as medical insurance, from the father
- The child can gain knowledge about their medical and family history
How do I Establish Paternity in Pennsylvania?
There are multiple ways that paternity can be established in Pennsylvania. When parties are married, the husband is presumed to be the father of children born during that marriage. When a child is born to parties who are not married, there are a few ways that paternity can be established.
Establishing Paternity Voluntarily
When a father agrees that he is the paternal parent of a child, he can sign a Voluntary Acknowledgement of Paternity (VAP) in front of a witness. This form can be sent to the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare. The father’s name may be added to the child’s birth certificate, and he will have all the rights and obligations as if the parents had been married at the time of birth.
Establishing Paternity Involuntarily
If a father disputes that he is the paternal parent of a child, a court may intervene in the situation. The mother may sue the father for child support, or a custody battle may ensue. If paternity is an issue in a domestic relations case, the court can order a DNA test to determine paternity.
If the genetic test results indicate that the man is the child’s biological father, then the court will likely order that the parties must sign an Acknowledgement of Paternity. Once paternity is established, the individual has all the rights and obligations of a biological father.
Paternity by Estoppel
There is another way that courts may impose rights and obligations on a paternal parent – paternity by estoppel. In this situation, both parents are “estopped” or prohibited from claiming that the person who was recognized as the father before litigation is the father.
This might occur when a wife claims that her soon-to-be-ex husband’s child was really a boyfriend’s biological child. A husband might also claim they are not the actual father to avoid paying child support.
In these cases, a court will look to see if there is an acknowledgment of paternity, whether the parties were married at the time of birth of the child, and whether the alleged father held himself out to be the paternal parent.
Factors That Determine Whether a Person Held Themselves Out
When considering whether a person held themselves out to be a paternal parent, the court will review factors such as:
- What the alleged father told friends, families, teachers, healthcare providers, and others
- Legal documentation, including a VAP
- Prior involvement with the child, including support and relationship built
- If the child views the man as their father
If the court finds a parent-child relationship, and the child may be negatively impacted if the person is no longer considered the father, then the court may stop the parents from disputing parentage.
In some cases, this results in a father parenting a child who is not biologically theirs. However, the court will always do what is in the child’s best interest. The court also considers what is best for public policy in these cases.
What does Paternity Affect?
Paternity affects all aspects of parental rights and obligations of being a parent. While a mother automatically has those rights and responsibilities, a father must often fight for them or attempt to prove the rights are not his to share.
A father may want to take an active role in establishing paternity so that they can:
- Seek joint or sole custody
- Enforce visitation rights
- Establish fair child custody payments
- Modifying or changing support arrangements
- Prove paternity
- Provide benefits for the child
- Ensure the child gets an appropriate inheritance
- Prevent the mother from moving away with the child
If a mother sues a man for child support, the alleged father is allowed to seek a determination of paternity. If established, the court will recognize that the paternal parent will have visitation and custody rights the mother must recognize if she seeks child support.
If a person disputes paternity and is not found to be the father, they are not likely to be ordered to pay child support. Child support may still be on the table in cases where paternity by estoppel is an issue. However, a child support attorney should be consulted to protect your rights.
Call Czekaj Law, LLC for Help with Your Paternity Case
Although you are not required to use a custody attorney when dealing with a paternity case, it is best to consult with someone that understands the law and will protect your rights. An experienced family lawyer can walk you through either side of a custody dispute, whether you are disputing paternity or trying to establish it.