When a baby is born to unmarried parents in Illinois, the father is usually not automatically recognized as the child’s legal parent. Establishing legal paternity requires further action through either the Illinois court system or the Department of Healthcare and Family Services. Though it may seem daunting to attempt to resolve a legal matter, establishing paternity can actually be quite simple, and it can offer significant benefits for everyone involved.
Benefits for the Child
The most important reason to establish legal paternity is to better provide for the child’s needs. A man who has been recognized as a child’s legal father is required to contribute his fair share to child support, including for basic childcare expenses and any extraordinary needs that the child may have. A child may also be entitled to many other benefits through their legal father, including military and veteran’s benefits, Social Security benefits, health insurance benefits, and inheritance benefits.
Benefits for the Father
While establishing paternity comes with financial responsibility for the father, it also provides crucial benefits for fathers who want to protect their relationships with their children. Without establishing parentage, a father has no standing to pursue parental responsibilities or parenting time. However, upon being recognized as the child’s legal parent, a man can petition for these parental rights. An unmarried father can even be granted sole or primary custody if the court determines that doing so is in the child’s best interests.
Benefits for the Mother
For the child’s mother, establishing a man’s paternity can not only provide peace of mind that the child will be provided for, but it can also help the mother secure valuable assistance. A mother with limited financial means may depend on a father’s child support contributions to provide for the child’s needs. If the mother and father can agree to an arrangement for sharing parenting time and parental responsibilities, the father can also support the mother in their mutual duty to raise the child and provide emotional support.
Options for Establishing Paternity in Illinois
The most straightforward way to secure all of the benefits of legal paternity is for both parents to sign a Voluntary Acknowledgment of Paternity (VAP) at the hospital when the child is born. If this is not possible, either parent can petition the court for adjudication of paternity, either for the purposes of securing child support or grounds to pursue parental rights....