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Paternity Matters: What Illinois Dads Need to Know

Posted on in Parentage

DuPage County family law attorney paternity

All parents have certain rights when it comes to their children, including unmarried fathers. In the past, courts typically favored mothers when it came to divorce and child custody battles, but as parental roles have modernized, the Illinois court system now makes decisions in the best interests of the child. The court typically leans toward keeping both parents in the child’s life and maintaining their parent-child relationships, unless one proves to be a danger to the child in some way. 

As a parent, your ability to spend time with your child may seem like a given, rather than a legal right. While all parents are granted these rights at the child’s birth, they are only enforceable to those who are legally recognized as the child’s father. For unmarried fathers, the need to have your role as a father legally established may not seem urgent, though the failure to do so can actually lead to legal, financial, and emotional issues as time goes on. That is why it is important to understand what paternity means from a legal standpoint for both the child and his or her father. 

How Is Paternity Defined?

According to Illinois law, paternity is a legal relationship between a father and his child. Once paternity is established, not only will your name be included on your child’s birth certificate, but you and your child are also granted certain legal rights that are not given without this official documentation. Proving paternity can be fairly straightforward for married couples, but for those who are unmarried, there are a few additional loopholes that one must jump through. 

Different Ways to Prove Paternity

Married couples do not need to take any action to prove who the child’s father is. If a couple is married, the husband is presumed to be the father of the child without the completion of any additional paperwork. For those who are unmarried, there are a few ways that one can establish paternity, and depending on the nature of you and the mother’s relationship, the process can be as easy as providing a signature. If, however, the mother does not want you legally recognized as the child’s father or you are unsure about your biological connection to the child, the process can become a bit more complicated.

The most common way of establishing paternity in Illinois is by signing a Voluntary Acknowledgement of Paternity (VAP). This document is reserved for unmarried parents who would like to recognize the child’s biological father. The VAP will be completed, signed, and filed with the Department of Healthcare and Family Services (HFS). It is important to note that this legal document should only be signed with definitive certainty that the man signing the document is indeed the child’s biological father. If the child’s true biological father comes to light after you have signed the VAP or you have changed your mind about the VAP after it has been signed, you may complete a Rescission of Voluntary Acknowledgement of Paternity or Rescission of Denial of Parentage. The Rescission must be signed, witnessed, and filed within 60 days from the effective date of the VAP. After the 60-day period has lapsed, you will no longer be able to file a Rescission. By signing a Rescission, you are giving up all of your rights to your child.

If you have reason to believe that you may not be the child’s biological father, or simply want the reassurance of your connection to the child before taking on all of the legal responsibilities, you may request that a DNA paternity test be performed. These genetic tests are typically done using a simple cheek swab from the mother, alleged father, and child, ensuring that the child’s DNA does in fact match the man in question. DNA paternity tests are 99.9 percent accurate and thus can provide you with definitive proof of your paternity. Depending on your family’s situation or circumstances, the decision to conduct a paternity test can be a smooth process or a challenging one. Hopefully, both you and the child’s mother will agree to submit to a paternity test. On the other hand, requesting a DNA paternity test may cause rifts between you and the child’s mother. You may avoid requesting a DNA test as it can appear that you do not trust the mother’s allegations that you are the father of her child. While the request can come off in this way, you should be completely sure about your connection to the child as there are a number of legal, financial, and personal responsibilities that this role requires for the remainder of your life. If the child’s mother or the alleged father refuses to submit to the paternity test, a court-mandated order for paternity testing can be made. It is in instances like these that you should turn to a reputable family law attorney for help with your case.

Why Is Establishing Paternity Important?

Legally establishing paternity is important for all parties involved, especially the child. When paternity is established, the child is granted a number of rights, the first being financial security. Once the child’s biological father is recognized, he or she will be eligible to receive health and life insurance benefits, social security benefits, an inheritance if his or her father is deceased or disabled, and veteran’s benefits when applicable. The child will also have insight into his or her paternal family’s genetic history. While this may not seem relevant at the time of his or her birth, knowing a father’s medical history can help a child take preventative measures for certain genetic conditions and save him or her in the instance of a future medical emergency. Aside from the more tangible benefits of proving paternity, the child also has a right to know who his or her father is. Even if the child does not intend on pursuing a relationship with his or her father, knowing the father’s name can save the child from spending a portion of his or her life searching for the father’s identity. 

Establishing paternity is critically important for both parents as well. The legal recognition of the father’s connection to the child can open the door for the father to build a relationship and a lifetime of memories with his child. While you may argue that this can occur with or without officially establishing paternity, the father will no longer be reliant on the mother’s permission to do so. What many overlook when considering establishing paternity is how this legal process can truly benefit the mother as well. Some see this as taking away the mother’s sole connection with her child when in reality, this legal designation will provide the mother with guaranteed and ongoing support from the father. Establishing paternity does not only grant the father the ability to build a relationship, but it also presents him with a number of responsibilities until the child turns 18, many of which can alleviate the single mother’s responsibilities. 

What Rights and Responsibilities Do I Get from Proving Paternity?

Similar to how child issues are handled in a divorce, establishing paternity will lead to the creation of a parenting plan. The first issue in question will be the allocation of parental responsibilities. This means you will outline who has the ability to make certain parenting decisions regarding topics such as the child’s education, healthcare, extracurricular activities, religion, and more. You will also create a parenting time schedule that dictates who the child will be spending time with on a daily basis, during school breaks, and over holidays. You and your co-parent may go into as much detail as you would like, including information such as transportation arrangements when moving between households. Depending on your child’s age, determining child custody can be a fairly equal divide. If your child was just born, the court may rule that your child spends half of his or her time with each parent. But if your child is in his or her teenage years, you may not be granted as much time since the child’s mother has been his or her primary caregiver up until this point. In cases like these, it is especially important to have a family attorney advocating on your behalf. The mother, for instance, may frame your absence from the child’s life as proof of your inability to be a good parent, when in reality, you were unaware that you had a child at all. An attorney will present your side of the story to ensure that the judge is fully aware of your role and your abilities as a parent.

You will also have a few financial obligations that you must uphold once your paternity is proven. If you and the child’s mother do not share equal custody of your child, you will likely be required to pay her child support on a monthly basis. The court will determine what this amount will be based on several factors, such as how much time you spend with the child, your earning capacity, and the mother’s income. Child support typically lasts until the child turns 18 years old, and at that point, you may be asked to contribute to their college expenses. In Illinois, child support is no longer required once the child reaches the age of 18, but parents can still be required to help pay for tuition, room and board fees, books and supplies, transportation, medical insurance, and other college-related expenses.

Contact a DuPage County Paternity Lawyer

As you can see, proving paternity can entail much more than just signing a piece of paper. Even if you and your child’s mother decide to sign a VAP, it is important to create a parenting plan with the help of a family law attorney to ensure that your rights as a parent are protected. At Weiss-Kunz & Oliver, LLC, we help families of all shapes and sizes through the legal challenges that they may face, including recognizing the child’s father by establishing paternity. Our firm is well-versed in the complexities of Illinois family law and we are prepared to guide you through every step of the process. To learn more, call our qualified and compassionate Elmhurst family law attorneys at 312-605-4041 today to schedule a confidential consultation.





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