When a child is born to unmarried parents there can be confusion over the biological parents’ rights and responsibilities. Both father and mother have equal rights and responsibilities towards the care of their child. In Pennsylvania, unmarried parents can establish the paternity of a child by filing the Acknowledgment of Paternity form, which is readily available from the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare. Completing this form is a voluntary way to not only establish paternity, but it also is a way to establish the biological father’s legal rights and duties as to the child.
Neither party should sign the AOP if paternity is contested or in doubt. Rather, the mother should file to establish child support and paternity with the nearest Domestic Relations Section office. The alleged father will then receive a notice to appear at a support conference hearing. The hearing will seek to establish paternity; before the hearing, however, both parents can agree to genetic testing to conclusively establish paternity.
Benefits to Establishing Paternity
The benefits to establishing paternity include knowing the medical history of the child and potential Social Security benefits, among others. The most well-known benefit to establishing paternity involves child support. Pennsylvania state guidelines establish that child support is awarded in a way that treats similarly situated people equally. The amount of assistance required from the father will be determined by the reasonable needs of the child, taking into account the father’s capacity to provide such support and the mother’s situation. Once the state has determined the amount of assistance, there is an obligation to fulfill that requirement until the child has reached 18 years of age, except in special circumstances in which child support can be extended beyond that period.
If the father falls behind on court-ordered child support payments, there can be serious and lasting legal and financial consequences. The non-paying parent can face the following potential repercussions:
Jail time, including fines and potential probation
Credit bureau reporting
Publication of the parent’s name as a delinquent parent
Seizure of the parent’s bank accounts
Suspension of the parent’s driver’s license
Establishing paternity is a serious decision in which all parties should be aware of their obligations. If you have questions or concerns regarding your rights or obligations as a parent, please seek the assistance of an experienced family law attorney.