Protecting the rights of unmarried fathers in Illinois
In Illinois, when a child is born to a married woman, the woman’s husband is automatically presumed to be the legal father of the child. However, when a child is born to an unmarried woman, the biological father does not have any automatic legal rights. This is true even if the child’s father is in a long-term relationship with the mother.
As such, it is extremely important for unmarried fathers to take steps to protect their rights when a child is born. Fathers should establish paternity as soon as possible. In addition, they should work with a family law attorney to create a parentage agreement that clarifies both parents’ rights and obligations with regard to custody, visitation, child support and other issues.
Establishing legal paternity
Illinois law recognizes three ways to establish legal paternity. The easiest way is for both parents to sign a Voluntary Acknowledgement of Paternity. In most cases, this will be provided to the parents when the child was born. If the parents do not sign the form at the hospital, they can get another copy online or from a Human Services, Child Support or County Clerk’s office.
If paternity is disputed, either parent can go to court to establish paternity. As part of this, the alleged father may be required to submit to DNA testing.
A paternity case can also be initiated by the Department of Health Care and Family Services’ Child Support Services office. This avenue is most commonly used when a mother is attempting to secure public benefits on her child’s behalf.
Without legally established paternity, a biological father does not have the right to seek visitation or child custody. Similarly, mothers cannot seek child support unless paternity has been established.
Creating a parentage agreement
It is important to recognize that while establishing paternity gives fathers a right to seek custody or visitation, it does not automatically confer any custody or visitation rights. If the child has been living with the mother, she is presumed to have legal custody. Fathers who take their children without permission or refuse to return children after a visit can actually be charged with kidnapping.
Since unmarried fathers do not have any automatic legal rights with regard to their children, it is important for them to establish custody and visitation rights as soon as possible after a child is born. In some cases, fathers are able to reach an agreement with their child’s mother. In others, the issue will be referred to court, where a judge will create a custody and visitation arrangement that is in the child’s best interest. As part of this process, the noncustodial parent will likely also be ordered to pay child support.
There is no issue as important as the care and support of a child. If you are the unmarried father of a child and you have not taken steps to protect your rights, talk to an Illinois family law attorney who can help you evaluate your options for moving forward.