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Parental Responsibilities of Unmarried Parents

With more “non-traditional” households on the rise, it is no longer uncommon for a child to grow up with unmarried parents. The state of Illinois grants unmarried parents the same parental responsibilities as married parents. However, the law does require fathers to take a few additional steps to establish their rights as the child’s parent.

What Are The Rights of Unmarried Fathers?

If a couple is married at the time of a child’s conception, the law assumes they are the child’s biological parents – even if they are no longer married when the child is born. However, if the couple either was not married or they do not get married after the child is born, the law cannot assume parentage. As a result, the father has no rights until paternity is established.

How Does the Court Establish Paternity?

There are a couple options for unmarried parents to establish paternity of a child. These include:

Voluntary Acknowledgement of Paternity (VAP)

Both biological mother and father sign a VAP form to establish parentage. They typically sign the form at the hospital. Upon proper completion, the form allows the alleged father to sign his name on the child’s birth certificate. In addition, the form acts as a legal determination of parentage.

The child’s parents may complete a VAP at any time. They can also file them for different states. It establishes the parental rights of unmarried parents without going to court to formally declare paternity. However, it’s important to note that confirming paternity does not grant any custody or parenting time rights to the father.  

To confirm paternity prior to signing the VAP, fathers have the right to request a genetic test.  If the mother is married to someone other than the child’s biological father, the other spouse will sign a voluntary denial of parentage, or a declaration of non-paternity, prior to the biological father submitting the VAP.

Genetic Testing

In some instances, the alleged father has to take a paternity test in order for the Court to be able to adjudicate paternity. This can happen in situations where the mother is not voluntarily consenting to an order establishing paternity, and the father has filed a court case. Paternity tests require DNA samples gathered by swabbing the inside cheek of the father, mother and child. The lab then compares the DNA to establish paternity. Paternity test results are 99.9% accurate.

Just like how a father can pursue a paternity case, mothers can also file to have parentage established. (Note: The law generally requires mothers file if they are seeking child support.) In Illinois, the law holds unmarried parents responsible for providing financial support for a child. An individual cannot avoid that obligation by refusing a test. If a father refuses to take a paternity test, the mother can pursue an order for the testing to be completed, sometimes even at the father’s cost.

Administrative Paternity Order (APO)

An APO comes from the state’s Department of Child Services, and this generally will commence a Court proceeding in the county where the father resides. Primarily, mothers seek out these orders to obtain child support payments from the child’s biological father. The Illinois Department of Health and Family Services (HFS) may request genetic testing of the alleged father during this process.

Judicial Paternity Order

At any point in time, if there is a dispute of paternity, both mothers and fathers can file a case in court. Children may even file for paternity action. In these instances, one party files a petition, and the Court schedules a hearing. At the hearing, the Court decides paternity based off law, statutes, evidence and arguments of parties involved.

Paternity And Parental Responsibilities

All states require confirmation of paternity to properly assign parental responsibilities to unmarried parents. This includes obligations such as child support, as well as other rights associated with parenting time and the parenting plan. Parental responsibilities then include things such as the right to make major decisions on behalf the child, including decisions on education, religion and medical treatment.

Can Unmarried Parents Change Their Parental Responsibilities?

Unmarried parents have the right to seek alternative agreements or modifications of prior orders when it comes to parenting time or parenting agreements. No matter your situation, Kristen Strieker and the team at Strieker Law Firm can work with you to help you find an arrangement that suits you and your needs. Contact the office to learn more.

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