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Wheaton, IL family law attorney for paternity and child custodyIf you have a child while you are unmarried, establishing legal paternity provides important benefits to the child, and it can also help both mothers and fathers protect their parental rights. However, it is important to understand exactly what legal paternity entails to determine whether further legal action may be necessary, especially in cases in which you wish to confirm or deny the right to custody and parenting time.

What Benefits Does Legal Paternity Provide in Illinois?

For a child, establishing legal paternity ensures access to financial support from both parents in order to provide for regular needs, including shelter, food, clothing, healthcare, and education. The child can also benefit from the father’s health insurance, life insurance, government benefits including Social Security, an inheritance in the event of his death, as well as information from the father’s medical history that may make better medical care possible for the child.

For the parents, establishing legal paternity usually means that the father will be obligated to make regular child support payments to the mother. The father will also likely have the right to consent to or contest possible future decisions regarding the child’s adoption. The father also has the right to petition for allocation of parental responsibilities and parenting time, but this is not automatically guaranteed.

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DuPage County paternity attorney DNA testingYou might think being able to use science to determine paternity with absolute certainty through DNA testing would make family law cases much easier, especially when it comes to defining child custodychild support, and parenting time. However, the truth is that it can actually complicate things even more than intended. Here is how introducing DNA testing into the legal process has changed paternity, fatherhood, and father's rights:

Why Paternity Is So Complex, Especially Now With DNA Testing

Paternity has always been a complex issue, but before DNA testing, according to the law, it was relatively simple: if you were married, and your wife had a baby, you were considered the father. However, as many people know—and even knew then—it is rarely that simple in actuality. Now that medical technology has caught up with the dilemmas surrounding paternity, DNA testing has provided the courts with an exact, indisputable science to determine the identity of a child’s father.

You might think this has made things easier, but it has actually caused great cognitive dissonance for many fathers. A father may spend years thinking a child was his and raising that child as his own, only to discover during the divorce process that he is not the child’s biological father. He would not want to disrespect and lose that beautiful relationship with his son or daughter just because he did not want to be responsible for child support payments. At the same time, he may feel a sense of resentment when paying support for a child that was not even his. What is a father to do?

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Wheaton paternity lawyerWhen it comes to fathers’ rights, paternity is the building block upon which all other parenting decisions are made with regards to child custody. Proving that you are or are not the father of the child can make a world of painful difference, be it emotional when you realize you may no longer be entitled to parenting time or financial when a court rules that you must pay child support for a child being raised by another man. Depending on your situation, you might want to consider legal action.   

What to Do if the Divorce Proceedings Uncover Paternity Issues

If somehow during your divorce, your wife says the child you have cared for during the marriage over the last several years — the same one you cradled to bed as a baby, took to the park as a toddler, and brought to the movies as a schoolchild — is not actually yours, you will need to make the proper legal arrangements and begin developing a winning strategy to protect your rights as a father. In particular, consider the following:

How was the paternity originally established? In Illinois, there are only four possible ways to establish paternity:

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Posted on in Child Custody

DuPage County family law attorney divorcing while pregnantMost divorce cases involve a variety of complex issues, but there are some situations that may leave spouses wondering about their rights and how they can protect themselves going forward. One concern that some divorcing couples may face is determining how to proceed when they are expecting a child. Emotional and psychological issues notwithstanding, there are many challenges that may arise when getting a divorce while a spouse is pregnant.

Legal Issues Involved When Divorcing While Pregnant

A spouse’s pregnancy can greatly complicate the divorce process. Some of the issues that may need to be addressed in these cases include:

  • No Simplified Divorce—Although some married couples can get a simplified divorce, this option is not available if the spouses have children together or are expecting a child. This means the divorce proceedings will be more involved, and they may take longer to resolve.

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Dupage County family law attorney fathers’ rightsIn Illinois and in many other states, it can seem like the odds are stacked against fathers in family law cases. Judges in Illinois have been instructed to not hold one parent in higher regard than another – therefore, in theory, this means that a father has the same parental rights as a mother. In practice, however, things often turn out differently.

While mothers often take the lead in caring for children, fathers also play a critical role in their development. Studies now show that children who have fathers or father figures involved in their lives tend to do better in school and chart a better path to success in life. Fathers also often act as caregivers, nurturers, and disciplinarians, providing invaluable love and support throughout the childhood years and beyond.

Evolution of Parental Rights

As a result of these studies, Illinois family law has evolved over time to give men more opportunities to enforce fathers’ rights while scaling back the traditional presumption that a mother would be the better caregiver. This fact notwithstanding, an Illinois father must still do more to fight for his parental rights. For example, when a father signs a Voluntary Acknowledgement of Paternity (VAP) – a form recognizing him as the child’s legal father – that form specifically states by signing the form, the father is given no rights to parental responsibility or parenting time. This means the father must pursue separate legal action to address these issues.

Father’s Rights to Parenting Time and Parental Responsibility

When a father seeks decision-making responsibility (formerly known as child custody) and parenting time (formerly known as visitation), the judge who hears the case will consider what is in the best interests of the child when making their decisions. There are many factors the judge looks at in reaching the best decision about the case, including the wishes of the parents and the child and the parents’ history of caring for the child and making decisions about how to raise the child.

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