A child should know who his or her father is, and fathers should know too. In western New York State, if you need paternity established, or if you’re involved in a dispute over paternity, custody, or child support, you’re going to need the advice and help of a Rochester paternity lawyer.

Establishing paternity is the process of determining who is a child’s legal father. Parents have the basic right to a relationship with their child or children (unless a family court has terminated that right), and parents are obliged by law to care for and provide support to their children.

Unwed mothers automatically have full legal parental rights, but under New York law, when a child is born to unmarried parents, that child has no legal father, and the biological father has no parental responsibilities or rights.

How Does an Unwed Biological Father Become a Legal Father?

For a biological father to be recognized as a legal father, the parents must establish the child’s paternity. In New York, unmarried parents have two ways of doing that. They may voluntarily sign an Acknowledgment of Paternity form, or they can petition a court to determine paternity.

By establishing paternity, unwed parents ensure that a child has the same rights and benefits as children who are born to married parents. The child may receive financial and emotional benefits from both parents when those parents establish paternity. Those benefits may include:

1. Financial support from both parents, including Social Security benefits and veterans benefits (if one parent dies while the child is a minor), inheritance rights, and child support if the parents divorce.

2. Life and medical insurance coverage from either parent and information about the medical history of each parent.

When paternity is established in New York, either by the court or by an Acknowledgment of Paternity, the recognized legal father then has the same parental rights and responsibilities that the mother has, including a right to take child custody, support, and visitation disputes to court.

How Does the “Acknowledgement of Paternity” Work?

An Acknowledgement of Paternity must be signed by both parents. Usually, it’s signed at a hospital after the child’s birth, although it may be signed at any time prior to a child turning age 21. The form is available from hospitals, family courts, and the Department of Health.

If you genuinely believe that you made a mistake when you signed the Acknowledgement of Paternity, you have sixty days to petition the court to cancel your Acknowledgement. After the 60-day period has passed, however, you will need to prove that there was fraud, a mistake of fact, or that you were suffering duress.

Petitioning a Court to Determine Paternity

The State of New York places the highest priority on the well-being and best interests of children. Either parent may submit a paternity petition to a family court with the help of a family law attorney, and each party in a paternity action may be represented by his or her own lawyer.

If the biological mother was married to a man other than the purported biological father when a child was born or conceived, or if another man is already recognized as a child’s father, a family court may refuse to order DNA testing based on the legal principle of “equitable estoppel.”

What this means is that the court has determined that it is not in the child’s best interests to disrupt the existing parental relationships, even if the legal father is not the biological father.

What If a Child’s Paternity is in Dispute?

However, if there’s a genuine dispute regarding a child’s paternity, the court will usually order DNA testing. If the test determines that the man named in the paternity petition isn’t the child’s biological father, the case is dismissed.

But if DNA testing discovers that the man named in the paternity petition is almost certainly the child’s biological father, the court issues an “Order of Filiation” affirming that the child’s biological father and the child’s legal father are the same person.

When paternity is established by an Acknowledgment of Paternity or by an Order of Filiation, either parent may seek custody, child support, or visitation privileges. Such petitions may be filed as a paternity case is pending, but no order may be issued until paternity is established.

What Are the Benefits of Having Paternity Established?

With paternity established, a father has the right to make decisions about a child’s residence, childcare, religious training, education, and other activities.

Legal paternity also entails a responsibility to support a child financially and to provide food, housing, clothing, education, and healthcare directly or indirectly through child support.

Legal paternity gives a father substantial parental rights, but how does establishing paternity benefit a child’s mother? Establishing paternity:

1. allows the mother to share the parental responsibilities
2. can provide the mother with information about the father’s medical history
3. may enhance the family’s financial security
4. allows for coverage by the father’s life and health insurance

When Should a Parent Take Legal Action Regarding Paternity?

If a man in New York reasonably believes that he is the father of a child, but the child’s mother disputes his claim, that man should obtain advice and legal representation from a good New York paternity attorney.

However, should a man claim that he is not a child’s father, but the child’s mother believes that he is, the mother should also seek advice and representation from a New York paternity lawyer.

If you are an unmarried, biological mother, and you have any doubts whatsoever regarding the biological father’s identity, you must not sign an Acknowledgment of Paternity. Instead, with your attorney’s help, you should petition the court to determine and establish paternity.

How Will the Right Paternity Attorney Help You and Your Child?

The right Rochester paternity lawyer can explain a parent’s legal rights and options, request a court order on your behalf to establish paternity, and represent a parent effectively in child custody and child support disputes and proceedings.

If you’re a child’s father and you have not established paternity, don’t wait. Your child needs his or her father right now, and you have the right to a good attorney’s help.

In fact, whether you are a mother or a father, if you need a family law attorney’s advice or services for any legal matter that involves your child or your family, get that legal help as quickly as you can, because nothing is more important than our children.