Typically, a discussion surrounding paternity rights involves the rights of a married (and subsequently divorcing) father. Unmarried fathers, however, also struggle with paternity battles and the rights they have to their biological child (also known as fathers’ rights).
Historically speaking, unmarried fathers have fewer rights with respect to their child as compared to married men or the unwed mother. The Supreme Court of the United States addressed the constitutional rights of a father in a series of cases during the 1970s. The court found “the existence of a biological link between a child and unmarried father gives the father the opportunity to establish a substantial relationship” with the child. This includes being involved in raising the child.
While the court established these basic principles, the states are responsible for defining and governing paternity within their boundaries. The Illinois Parentage Act of 1984 establishes the basic principles governing the legal relationships between parent and children in the state. The law defines a parent-child relationship as the “legal relationship existing between a child and his natural or adoptive parents … to which the law confers or imposes rights, privileges, duties, and obligations. It includes the mother and child relationship and the father and child relationship.”
What does this mean? This means a biological (or adoptive) father, regardless of marital status, has legal rights with regards to his child. The law provides further details as to how a man is presumed to be the natural (biological) father of the child:
- The man and the child’s mother are/were married and the child was conceived during the marriage;
- After the child was born, the man and the child’s mother married/were married, and his name is on the child’s birth certificate; or
- There is a signed acknowledgement of paternity.
This of course is not the only means by which a man can be determined to be the natural father of a child. If, for example, an unmarried woman gives birth to a child, the institution at the time of birth or the local county clerk will provide an opportunity at a later date for the mother and father to sign an acknowledgement or denial of paternity. Furthermore, Illinois law has a list of alternative means to establish paternity and this list gives a man claiming to be the father of the child the right to determine the existence of a legal father-child relationship.
Importance of Establishing Rights as a Father
Why is this so important? It means a man, regardless of marital status, has the right to at least determine if he is the child’s father. If he is the father, he has certain rights that will apply to him, including the opportunity to pursue a parent-relationship with the child. Establishing paternity is critical to preserving the father-child relationship (visitation rights, etc); to adding your name to the birth certificate; to accessing critical family medical information; and to securing benefits for the child such as Social Security, medical benefits, and inheritance.
To further protect the rights of fathers, Illinois is also one of 25 states that created paternity registries. In this case the paternity registry was created under the Illinois Adoption Act. These registries allow for fathers to voluntarily acknowledge paternity for children born outside of marriage and record the fact in a registry. This is important because it helps guarantee certain rights for an unmarried father. These basic rights include receiving notice of any court proceedings involving the child, petitions for adoptions, and any actions to terminate parental rights. Most importantly, it also allows fathers to seek visitation rights.
Contact Our Attorneys for Help
Protecting your parental rights (or giving them up) can be a complicated matter, especially if you were initially unaware of the child. You will need an experienced attorney to walk you through the process. Please contact the experienced DuPage County family law attorneys
at our firm today for a consultation on your case.