Many unmarried fathers, particularly young fathers with low-incomes, may try to avoid confirming paternity. This is because they associate it with the establishment and enforcement of a child support order. While the two are linked, fathers should be aware that a child support order will only be established if requested by the custodial parent, or if the custodial parent applies for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), commonly known as cash assistance. In that case, the state is required to seek the establishment of a child support order.
Fathers should be aware of the importance of establishing their legal right to be involved in their child’s life. Unlike married fathers, who are legally considered the father, unmarried fathers have no legal rights until they complete a paternity acknowledgment process, which varies from state to state. Once paternity is legally established, they can petition for various rights, such as custody, visitation, or the right to join in decisions about the child’s education.
Tips & Best Practices
- Understand the paternity acknowledgment process in your state. Programs can build trust with unmarried fathers by explaining how establishing paternity ensures their legal rights and various rights and privileges for their children, such as rights to inheritance, father’s medical and life insurance benefits, and Social Security and veterans’ benefits, plus access to paternal family health history. Establish an “expert” in your program who knows about and can explain the paternity acknowledgment process in your state.
- Invite someone from the child support office to your program to do an informational session for fathers. Fatherhood practitioners can learn about their state’s steps for establishing paternity and petitioning for legal rights by contacting their local or state child support office. Many fatherhood programs invite child support agency representatives to make presentations explaining the process for fathers and staff.
- Explain to fathers the implications of not establishing paternity. Fathers who have not legally established paternity often do not realize the limitations of their situation until they hear about another dad who is losing contact with his children. For instance, a father may find out that his child’s mother is planning to move out of state, or a report of child abuse or neglect has led to child protection workers removing the child from the home. If a father has no legal certification of paternity, he has no recourse to object or request consideration for custody. Child welfare workers are required to undertake due diligence to find fathers, but not being named on the child’s birth certificate can slow that process.
The South Carolina Center for Fathers and Families (SCCFF) was formed in 2002 as a result of a community needs assessment and grant-making initiative by the Sisters of Charity Foundation of South Carolina that began in 1996. A task force considered grant-making opportunities by posing questions such as:
- Is the issue a niche and does it represent an underserved community?
- Is there any available research on the issue and can more research be done?
- Is the issue palatable for public discourse?
- Does the issue satisfy the mission of the Sisters of Charity of St. Augustine?
Based on the work of this task force, the foundation decided to address the social and economic consequences of father absence through a statewide fatherhood initiative, Reducing Poverty through Father Engagement. A partnership agreement was created with the University of South Carolina to provide technical assistance, synthesize the research that became the best practices of the initiative, and design the program models. Through a second partnership agreement with the South Carolina Department of Social Services to strengthen fragile families, SCCFF was formed with the mission to develop and support a statewide infrastructure deeply invested in repairing and nurturing relationships between fathers and families. Since 2002, SCCFF has worked with numerous programs throughout the state and developed partnerships with other key agencies, such as workforce development, child protective services, and child support enforcement, to encourage program referrals and ensure that a full array of services is available.
Why is establishing paternity so important?
Establishing paternity ensures a father’s legal rights and various rights and privileges for their children, such as rights to inheritance, father’s medical and life insurance benefits, and Social Security and veterans’ benefits, plus access to paternal family health history.
One of our participant’s girlfriends said that he is the father of her child but he doesn’t believe he is. How can we help him?
Sometimes an unmarried man is told he is the father but he is not sure if this is the case. Before signing a declaration of paternity, programs should advise requesting a blood test if there are any doubts about whether they are the father.
What information is required to establish paternity?
States differ in the information they require for registration or acknowledgment of paternity. In many states, the acknowledgment of paternity form also will provide essential information to the registrants.
Where can I find information on paternity and underage parents?
As minors, underage parents are not free to marry or bring a lawsuit without parental permission. In many states, they must also obtain their parent’s permission to sign a voluntary acknowledgment of paternity. In the absence of such permission, minors may not be able to establish their baby’s parentage. Paternity Establishment and Minor Parents provides information for programs working with underage parents and establishing paternity.