Why Paternity Matters
If you’re not married when your child is born, the father’s name will not appear on the birth certificate and the child will not be legally entitled to all the benefits that he or she otherwise would. Unless paternity is established, the mother has full custody rights and can make every decision in the child’s life. Establishing paternity unlocks many rights and benefits for the father, child, and mother, including the father’s right to share in custody and decision-making.
In addition to financial and other practical matters in bringing up a child, bonding and emotional ties are important for both child and parents.
When both parents are in the child’s life to one degree or another, the child can grow up feeling more connected, which is an important step in the emotional maturation process. The parents will get to make joint decisions regarding the child’s education and well-being. Even if they don’t live together, they can agree to share parenting time.
For the Mother
The mother, of course, will also have an important financial and caring resource to help her with the many expenses and necessities. The father may be able to provide, or help provide, child support and healthcare and educational resources that can be stressful and costly for a single parent.
For the Father
The father will get to bond with his child and provide support, emotional and otherwise, for the child’s journey into adulthood. He may also obtain the practical benefit of claiming the child as a dependent on his tax return. Similarly, without establishing paternity, the child will be unable to receive inheritance benefits from the father, including Social Security, veteran’s payments, medical insurance, and assistance from other state and federal programs.
Establishing Paternity in Ohio
Paternity can be established three ways in Ohio:
- Acknowledgment of Paternity Affidavit: Both father and mother can sign a paternity affidavit either in the hospital at the time of birth or later on by contacting the local health department or the Child Support Enforcement Agency (CSEA).
- Administrative Order of Paternity: If the mother is receiving child support from the state, the local CSEA can order both parents to undergo genetic testing to establish DNA and fatherhood. The tests can also be requested by either or both parties.
- Court Order of Paternity: Paternity may be established through a Juvenile Court, or sometimes through a Domestic Relations Court, via petition or lawsuit.
If the mother and biological father cannot agree on paternity, one party can petition to establish the identity of the biological father. The petition — often called a Complaint to Establish Paternity — will need to be drafted by an attorney and presented to the court.
If both parties don’t thereafter voluntarily resolve paternity and other issues, filing the petition is basically the same as filing a paternity lawsuit, as the court will eventually have to decide many issues, including child custody, parenting time, support payments, and other important considerations.
The initial result will often be that mother, child, and presumed (or petitioning) father must submit to genetic testing. The tests can be carried out in one of two ways: by using a cotton swab to take a sample from inside the mouth, or by submitting a blood sample.
Under Ohio law, though the unmarried mother is initially awarded full custody of the child, once the father is known, the court must give each parent an equal chance to prove that he or she is the better parent to have custody of the child.
The court will eventually issue what’s called a final order of paternity, which confers on the biological father the same status, rights, and responsibilities as the mother. The final judgment, however, will also include provisions covering custody, parenting time, child support, school designation, transportation costs, IRS exemptions, as well as which parent pays for insurance and uncovered medical costs, among other responsibilities and liabilities.
How Attorneys Can Help
Both the mother and the father have the right to establish paternity. If this cannot be done voluntarily, then obtaining the aid of a paternity attorney can prove vital. Negotiations and/or mediation can hopefully get both sides to reach an agreement. Barring that, a petition can be filed, or the CSEA can get involved to determine fatherhood. In either and all cases, having knowledgeable and experienced legal counsel is essential.
Think of what is at stake — not only the child’s future but also the financial and emotional well-being of both father and mother. These are not matters to be hashed out in spur-of-the-moment outbursts but hopefully in an amicable, share-the-responsibility manner. We can help you pursue a joint resolution, or barring all else, taking matters up the legal ladder.