Paternity in Illinois: Protecting your parent-child relationship and legal rights

Paternity should be established if you have any issues to resolve regarding child support, visitation, custody or survivorship rights.

There are many reasons a father or mother may need to prove the parentage of his or her child. A mother may want to terminate the parental rights of her child's biological father due to abuse or a father may want to establish his rights in order to pursue a relationship with his child. Paternity must also be established in order to enforce child support obligations.

However, there are other reasons that paternity is important. Proving your child's parentage gives him or her legal rights and privileges, including the right to inherit and receive benefits such as medical insurance, life insurance, social security and veterans benefits. It may also be vital for your child to access medical records and histories for both sides of his or her family. Beyond the legal rights and benefits, proving paternity can help a father and child build an emotional relationship and create a lasting bond with both parents.

Determining paternity in Illinois

In Illinois, paternity can be established a few different ways, by:

  1. Both parents signing a Voluntary Acknowledgment of Paternity (VAP) form. This is usually signed at the child's birth, but can be signed later on as well.
  2. An Administrative Paternity Order entered administratively by the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services (HFS). This can be done by also voluntary acknowledging paternity or agreeing to be bound by the results of genetic testing.
  3. A court Order of Paternity. A paternity action can be filed by the mother, presumed father, child or government agency (if the agency has custody or is financially responsible for the child). A judge will make a formal paternity determination and enter the order.

Proving paternity is governed by the Illinois Parentage Act of 1984 (750 ILCS 45). Under this act, a man will be presumed to be the child's biological or natural father in certain circumstances. Namely, if married to the child's mother when the child was conceived and/or born, if married to the child's mother after the child's birth and named on the child's birth certificate (with consent to do so), if he and the mother signed a VAP form, if an order was entered by the HFS or if the court entered an order of paternity. It should be noted that a presumption is not enough; there should be a court order or VAP to formally establish legal paternity.

Once biological parentage has been determined, the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act or IMDMA (750 ILCS 5) will be the law that governs any financial issues, such as child support matters and also custody determinations. It must be stressed that in order to protect parental rights or address any support, visitation or custody matters, the child's legal parentage must first be established.

If you are a mother seeking to prove paternity for your child's natural father, or a father who wants to enforce his rights, it is important to speak to a family law attorney knowledgeable in paternity matters. At Susan E. Kamman & Associates, we can assist you in navigating the laws governing paternity determinations, help protect your parental rights and preserve your relationship with your child.

Keywords: paternity, child custody, visitation