Paternity means fatherhood and “establishing paternity” refers to the determination of a child’s “legal” father and the related rights and obligations of the father to the child. Every child has a biological father, but not every child has a “legal” father. When “paternity has been established” it means that someone has been named the legal father of a child.
Paternity is automatically established if the parents are married to each other when the child is born. The husband is the legal father and his name will be on the child’s birth certificate. In Utah, if the parents of a child are not married to each other when the child is born, the child has no legal father until paternity is established. Once paternity is established, the father’s name will be placed on the child’s birth certificate and the father will gain certain rights to the child.
In Utah, paternity can be established either “voluntarily” by signing a Voluntary Declaration of Paternity form or “involuntarily” through a court or administrative order. When the mother and father agree that the father is in fact the biological father, paternity can be established voluntarily. This requires both the father and mother to sign what’s called a “Voluntary Declaration of Paternity.” This is often done at the hospital when the child is born. The form can also be obtained later from the Department of Health’s Vital Records and Statistics office and from local health departments. One form must be signed by both the mother and the father and witnessed by two adults that are not related to the mother and father.
If the father is under 18 years old, his parent or guardian must also sign the form. The form must then be filed with, or sent to, the Department of Health’s Vital Records and Statistics office. Once the Declaration is properly filed with Vital Records, the father is the legal father of the child and his name will be added to the child’s birth certificate. In Utah, involuntary establishment of paternity is done one of two ways: through a judicial proceeding in court or through an administrative proceeding by the Office of Recovery Services. These methods are called “involuntary” because someone disputes paternity.
To begin the court process, the mother, father, or child must file a “Petition to Adjudicate Paternity” in the District or Juvenile Court in the county where the child lives. If either the mother or the father denies or is uncertain of paternity, the court may order DNA or genetic testing.
Today, a DNA test requires that the child, mother, and father have the inside of their cheeks swabbed. The DNA is then sent to a laboratory for analysis. If, after DNA testing, the court determines that the father is in fact the biological father, the court will issue an order of paternity, making the father the legal father and his name will be added to the child’s birth certificate. Within the court proceeding to determine paternity, the court can also issue orders of custody, visitation, and child support.
Office of Recovery Services
The Utah Office of Recovery Services’ Child Support Services (ORS) pursue paternity and child support actions through an administrative proceeding when the child is receiving public assistance. ORS will also pursue an administrative proceeding when the mother or father applies for assistance from ORS to obtain or update an order for child support. In this administrative process, ORS will “serve,” or give, to each parent a “Notice of Agency Action,” which is a document that notifies the parents of the proceeding. The Notice will contain either an appointment for DNA tests or instructions on how to request DNA testing. Usually, when your paternity case goes through ORS, the DNA tests are provided at no cost. If the test confirms the father as the biological father, ORS has the authority to declare the father the legal father, add the father’s name to the birth certificate, and establish a child support order. ORS does not make orders regarding custody or visitation. Even though the court is not involved, ORS’ orders have the same effect as a court order.
Benefits of Establishing Paternity
Establishing paternity means more than just having a father named on the child’s birth certificate. There are benefits for the child, the mother, and the father when paternity is established.
Establishing paternity helps children:
• have a relationship with both parents
• learn about family history, including medical histories, and
• access medical insurance and other benefits like life insurance, Social Security, Veterans benefits, and inheritance.
Establishing paternity helps mothers to:
• share the responsibilities of parenthood and
• share the costs of raising their child (once paternity is established, the mother can seek court ordered child support).
Establishing paternity helps fathers to:
• gain legal rights to their child (like being able to ask a court for custody of or visitation with their child)
• show they care about their child
• establish a bond with their child, and
• participate in their child’s life.
Advantages Of Establishing Paternity, Custody And Support For A Child
There are many advantages to establishing paternity and adjudicating a Parentage Decree. Some of them include:
• Ensuring that the child is financially supported until adulthood, as child support belongs to the child. Child support, as well as responsibility for insurance coverage, out-of-pocket insurance premiums, uninsured medical expenses, and reasonable work-related child care costs, and even school fees and extracurricular activity expenses can all be addressed in these actions. Once a support order is established through the court, you are can enforce it and address any issues through the court in what are called Orders to Show Cause, or by applying for support collection/enforcement services with the Utah Office of Recovery Services (ORS), an administrative agency.
• Establishing a predictable and stable parent-time/visitation schedule and Parenting Plan early on in the child’s life. A Parenting Plan not only spells out the visitation schedule, but it can also contain orders regarding communication between parents and child, decision-making, do’s and don’ts, alternative dispute resolution in the case of conflict or disagreement, etc.
• Avoiding a situation where a parent re-enters the picture after a long absence and the need to gradually reintroduce that child to a parent with whom they are not bonded.
• Providing your child with background about both sides of their family, including medical history and heritage.
• Your child may also qualify and be entitled to receive benefits from both parents, such as Social Security insurance, inheritances, or veteran’s benefits.
The Need For An Attorney To File A Petition For A Parentage Decree And Parenting Plan
The Utah Courts’ webpage has provided an Online Court Assistance Program (OCAP) for parties who can’t afford an attorney to file for divorces. Unfortunately, there are very few online resources for parties who are not married, but want to establish paternity, custody and child support. An experienced attorney at Ascent Law Firm can draft a Petition for Parentage Decree and Parenting Plan and get you through to the finish line.
Mediation Versus Trial
If the parties can’t initially agree on the provisions for a Parentage Decree and Parenting Plan, they must participate in court-mandated formal mediation. It is our experience at Ascent Law Firm that most disagreements can be settled through mediation. At mediation, both parties will be in different rooms while the mediator goes back and forth taking offers and counter-offers until a settlement is hopefully reached. Then, either the attorneys, or the mediator, will prepare a settlement document called a Stipulation and Settlement Agreement for the parties’ signatures, which is filed with the court. Final parentage/paternity documents are drafted based on this settlement document. In the end, the parties walk away from court with a Parentage Decree.
The alternative to mediation is letting the court decide what is best for you, your child, and the other parent at trial. You give up control of the outcome to the court. Digging your heels in during mediation and relying on a judge to make the decisions in your case may leave you and the other parent feeling like you have both lost. On the other hand, if the other party is being unreasonable in consideration of the relevant law and facts of the case, a trial may be the only option.
Changing The Birth Certificate Of A Child
A Parentage Decree can include an order to change a child’s birth certificate by, e.g., adding the father, removing the father, changing the surname of the child, etc. You will need an experienced paternity/parentage attorney to assist you with the language for these birth certificate orders, because the Utah Office of Vital Records and Statistics has strict requirements based on Utah Code and Administrative Rule. Paternity actions are similar to divorce actions with the underlining difference that the two parties have never been married but have children together. It is very important to have a Paternity decree filed with the court to define the relationship between the parties and their child/children.
Paternity Decree For Suspected Fathers
In circumstances where a woman has a child and does not identify the father on the birth certificate, if a man believes he may be the father of the child, he has a right to file a paternity action to determine whether he is the father of the child and then subsequently custody, visitation and child support. If you are in this circumstance, contact the Ascent law Firm so that you interests are protected.
Paternity Decree For Known Fathers
A child born out of wedlock and the father is known and possibly co-habitat. The father may be involved in the process and voluntarily puts his name on the birth certificate and signs a voluntary acknowledgment of paternity. The custody of the child is undetermined. Either parent has an equal right to have custody of the child. This situation warrant a decree of paternity so that both parties and child are protected and establishes order and legal ruling and determination that number one the father is the father of the child and then it also establishes what the custodial arrangement will be, visitation rights, child support, sharing of medical expenses, health insurance, childcare, etc… This decree of paternity avoids confusion, contention, and misunderstanding. It also deters one parent from just leaving with the child and disappear with the child and refuse to allow the father to have a relationship with the child.
Paternity Decree For Ambivalent Fathers
A child born out of wedlock and father does not know he has a child or ambivalent to the birth – The mother puts his name on the birth certificate. Often the father will learn that he has a child when ORS contacts him because the mother has filed a financial claim for child support. In this case, the attorney general office gets involved and provide the father with notification of the action of the paternity case. First there is an establishment of paternity and the gentlemen will have to submit to paternity testing to determine whether he is in fact the actual biological father of the child. Once paternity is established then a child support order is entered based upon financial income and guidelines. This child support will be retroactive four years back. The father is required in the expenses of the pregnancy and birth of the child along with child support. When these state actions only address financial aspects and do not at all address custody, visitation, tax deductions, etc…
Paternity Decree From The Mother
A mother has a child and is concerned about the relationship the child will have with the father, she needs to come into the Ascent Law Firm to file a paternity action. This Decree of paternity will define custody, visitation and child support. This is in the best interests of your child and yourself.
There is a difference between physical custody and legal custody under Utah law. Utah courts have the option of awarding sole custody to just one parent, and the courts also have the option of creating a parenting plan where both parents share both legal and physical custody of the child in question. In Utah, judges are required to render custody orders that are based on the best interest of the child. Should the court grant physical custody to the mother, then the father as a non-custodial parent is also entitled to parenting time. If the mother wishes to limit the father’s visitation of the child, she must get a court order that is based on potential harm to the child such as neglect or abuse.
As part of the divorce process, married parents have the option to ask the court for a custody order. However, an unmarried father must take action on proving parentage in order to assert his rights. After the court’s issue an order regarding the custody of the child and proposed visitation, parents are bound to follow the terms of the order.
Free Initial Consultation with Lawyer
It’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when. Legal problems come to everyone. Whether it’s your son who gets in a car wreck, your uncle who loses his job and needs to file for bankruptcy, your sister’s brother who’s getting divorced, or a grandparent that passes away without a will -all of us have legal issues and questions that arise. So when you have a law question, call Ascent Law for your free consultation (801) 676-5506. We want to help you!
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