Legal fatherhood: Paternity options for unwed Illinois fathers

By Jeffery M. Leving

Being an unwed father is not unusual. Almost 40% of U.S. births in 2017 were to unmarried mothers, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Few eyebrows are raised when couples live together or have intimate relationships outside of marriage.

But this trend can leave men out in the cold when it comes to fatherhood. It does not, and should not, stay that way.

Establishing paternity in Illinois

Paternity is legal fatherhood. The legal father is usually the biological father, but not always. The legal father can be adoptive or have rights through a valid surrogacy agreement. In rare circumstances, an unrelated man may end up with paternity.

In Illinois, if a man is married to a woman when she gives birth, state law presumes that he is the father. He has paternity and all the rights that come with being a legal father.

Three other processes exist to establish a child's paternity:

  • The parents execute a Voluntary Acknowledgement of Paternity (VAP) according to state procedural requirements and it is filed with the state. They can do this at the hospital or later, but a person who signed a VAP can rescind it usually only for 60 days, or if the person signed under duress, or because of a mistake or fraud, usually within two years of signing, with some exceptions.
  • Establish paternity administratively before the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services, known as HFS.
  • Go to state court to get an order of paternity.

In all of these situations, interested parties may request a DNA test to establish biological fatherhood.

Establishing paternity (or defending against an untrue allegation) is a complicated legal procedure. Talk to an attorney as early as possible for legal guidance and advocacy.

Why is paternity important?

Paternity brings rights, privileges and responsibilities. Being a legal parent is the means to develop a lifelong parent-child relationship. For example, a father can ask a court for custody. Delaying establishment of paternity is usually a mistake, and may subject a father to false allegations of not caring or significant support arrearages, or both. A legal parent can be court ordered to provide financial support and health care to the child.

Without paternity, the father could miss out on parenting and the chance to guide and protect his child. Also, access to information about his child such as medical care and school performance can be restricted. It is also important for the child to have two legal parents because the child may be eligible for Social Security or veteran's benefits (now or in the future) or health or life insurance benefits through both parents. The child will have inheritance rights and the opportunity to know the family's medical history. A child also can benefit from developing relationships with extended family and being part of that family's culture and traditions.

Legal advocacy for fathers

If you are an unwed father who wants to establish paternity, care for and spend time with your child,, it cannot be overemphasized how important it is to get an experienced paternity lawyer in your corner as early as possible to protect your legal options. If you are concerned about your child's welfare, your attorney can launch an investigation into the child's situation and whether a change in custody or parenting time would be in your child's best interests.

The fathers' rights attorneys at the Law Offices of Jeffery M. Leving Ltd. in Chicago fight passionately for fathers in paternity matters in Illinois and nationally, as well as for fathers' interests in divorce, custody, visitation, child support and related legal issues.

In one of many important cases, this law firm advocated successfully in a paternity and custody case for a client who was the unwed father of an at-risk 12-year-old girl. The daughter had been living with her mother, who allegedly put the child in danger through the mother's use of alcohol and drugs.

The judge gave custody of the daughter to her father and ordered the mother not to remove the girl from the father's possession. The Law Offices of Jeffery M. Leving Ltd. stands up for dads in their desire to protect and guide their children, no matter how fierce the fight. Our attorneys welcome the opportunity to fight for your children and help you protect them.