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As a Family Law Attorney practicing on Long Island for many years, I have seen an increasing concern with the issue of paternity, or establishing the identity of the father of those children over the past several years.

40% of Children Born in U.S. are to Unwed Mothers

Did you know that, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 40% of all babies born in the U.S. in 2015 were born to unwed mothers? While this percentage is actually slightly lower than in previous years, establishing paternity is still a large issue for many Americans, and Long Islanders.

What is Paternity?

Paternity, generally, is being known as a child’s father. In the context of a Long Island Divorce or Family Court proceeding, it provides you with the legal status as a particular child’s father, with all the rights and responsibilities that come with that designation.

So what does it mean to be a child’s legal father? At its minimum, when you are given the status as a legal father, you now have responsibilities. You are responsible, both legally and financially, for that child. In addition to those responsibilities, you also have rights to parenting time and, possibly, custody of your child. You are entitled to have a meaningful relationship with your child, which most would agree far outweighs any “burdens” placed upon you in your new role.

Establishing Paternity

In New York, there are a few ways to establish paternity. Here, I will discuss the 3 most commonly used methods:

#1. Marital Presumption

#2. Acknowledgment of Paternity

#3. Court Petitions

#1. Marital Presumption

The most self-explanatory of the three is where I’ll start. The Marital Presumption is exactly what it sounds like. If a child is born to a married couple, that child is presumptively that married couples’ offspring. While very straight-forward, taking advantage of the Marital Presumption is not always an option. With 40% of all babies born to unwed mothers, it is likely that the Marital Presumption will not apply in your case. You are not alone. Almost half of the children being born today will not be born to a married mother.

#2. Acknowledgment of Paternity

An Acknowledgment of Paternity may be utilized if the parents of the child are not married. Typically, at the hospital when the child is born, both the mother and father of the child will sign a form stating that the man who signed this form is the father of the child. The original Acknowledgment of Paternity must be filed no later than five days after it is signed.

#3. Court Petitions

If neither of the previous two exist, an alleged father may file a Petition for Paternity with the Family Court. This petition says that, while the mother and alleged father are neither married nor have a signed Acknowledgment of Paternity, the alleged father wishes to establish a legally recognizable relationship with the subject child.

Be advised, however, that this is the least ideal situation of the three. There are a few reasons for this.

First, the Court may order a DNA test for both you and the child. Notice, however, that I used the phrase “may” order a DNA test; not “must”. This is where the Petition can get tricky. Let’s say that Mom has a child out of wedlock. She has the baby and begins dating a person who is not the biological father of the child; let’s call him “Boyfriend”. Boyfriend is a father in every sense of the word except biologically to the child – the child calls him “dad,” he financially supports the child, takes the child to school, to doctor’s appointments, cooks the child dinner, teaches the child to throw a ball and ride a bike. Some time later, Mom and Boyfriend get married and a few years down the road, a person who had a previous sexual relationship (let’s call him “Dad”) with Mom learns that Mom had a baby. The timing coincides with his relationship with Mom and he believes that he is the father of the child. This person files a Petition for Paternity, asking the Court to order a genetic marker test to see if the child is his. In this particular case, the Court may not order the test.

This probably seems incredibly unfair. What if Dad is the biological father, shouldn’t he have the right to a relationship with his child? New York State courts may decide to put the best interests of the child ahead of the alleged father’s rights. If the child has relied on another man’s representations, in this case Boyfriend, that he was the child’s father, ripping the child away from the father he or she knows would likely be incredibly detrimental to the child. In this case, regardless of the fact that Dad might be the biological father of the child, he may not be able to assert his paternity rights. If the Court denies his request for a DNA test, he will not be able to seek custody or even visitation with the child and he will not be financially nor legally responsible for the child. This is why time is often of the essence.

While this may be a bitter pill to swallow, it is best to keep in mind that this decision was made in order to protect the child. Imagine a young boy or girl spending his or her formative years thinking Boyfriend was his or her father and then all of a sudden Dad is his or her father. This can obviously cause incredible confusion for a young child, which may lead to emotional or behavioral challenges. This concept is why it is so important to make every attempt to take advantage of your rights as soon as you suspect you may have fathered a child.

So You’ve Established Paternity, Now What?

As a result of paternity being established, many new issues may quickly arise. The next major steps will be to get meaningful parenting time and to determine what your new responsibilities entail. Both of these will be discussed in next week’s blog post, so stay tuned.

Check out our Divorce Guide for Dads for more information about divorce issues specifically related to fathers.

Contact an Experienced Long Island Family Law Attorney with Your Paternity Questions

If you have questions about establishing Paternity in courts on Long Island, it’s best to contact an experienced Long Island Family Law attorney right away. The family law firm of Hornberger Verbitsky, P.C. can assist you with establishing Paternity and advocate for you in court, alleviating some of the stress that comes with the process. Contact our office today at 631-923-1910 for a free consultation.

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