Paternity / Father’s Rights
In Indiana, if parties are married at the time a child is born, the husband is, by law, the father of the child. However, if a child is born to parties who are unmarried, or there is doubt regarding the biological father of a child, it is necessary to establish paternity. Establishing paternity refers to the legal process formalizing a relationship between a father and child and the responsibilities associated with that relationship. Establishing paternity is an important part of a healthy emotional relationship between father and child, but it is also legally significant. There are a few ways that paternity may be established:
- If the mother was unmarried at both date of conception and birth, paternity can be established by executing an affidavit at the hospital. Parties who are still in a relationship, or parties who are amicable often choose to identify the legal father via this method. Indiana allows a man to execute a Voluntary Declaration of Paternity within the first 72 hours after a child's birth. If both parents sign the paternity affidavit (a form provided by the hospital from the state health department), the father's name will be put on the birth certificate and he will be the legal father.
- Until a child reaches the age of emancipation, a paternity affidavit may also be executed at the local health department.
At the hospital, before the paternity affidavit is signed, Indiana law requires that it be presented separately to the mother and the "man who reasonably appears to be the child's biological father". This is to allow each party to review the affidavit alone, without the presence of the other person. Since it is a legally binding document, this is to help prevent any concerns of undue influence.
If you are contemplating executing a paternity affidavit for your situation, you should be aware that it does legally establish paternity and gives rise to rights and responsibilities regarding custody, parenting time and child support. Before signing a paternity affidavit, if you have concerns about your rights as an unmarried mother or father, you should consult with an attorney to determine the best process for you.
For cases in which a paternity affidavit is not executed, it is possible to later establish paternity by initiating a paternity action with the court. If paternity is disputed, the parties and the child can submit to genetic testing to determine the child's biological father.Parties may also agree to acknowledge paternity and submit a written agreement to the court.A court decree establishes the paternity relationship and can make orders for custody, child support, and child visitation. The action can be brought any time after conception.
In some cases, relationships between cohabiting parties or amicable parties may end months or even years after the parties established paternity by signing the paternity affidavit. In those circumstances, the parents may be at a loss as to how to formalize the details to continue coparenting, issues arise regarding support, custody and parenting time. An attorney can help evaluate the situation and determine if litigation is necessary to protect your child's best interests. Another option available to parties is to utilize mediation to resolve their dispute and negotiate an agreement regarding the terms of their coparenting relationship.