Being a parent is a labor of love. You want the best for your child, and that takes the commitment, involvement, and financial resources of both parents. When parents aren’t married, legally declaring fatherhood is important for the child’s identity to help develop a father-child bond, and so the child can benefit from the financial support of both parents.
We’ll review the ways to establish paternity, the rights and obligations that come with paternity, and financial advice on using life insurance on the child’s father to secure child support and other child-related payments if the father dies while the child is still a minor.
Ways to Establish Paternity
Every state has its own unique laws around paternity, but if the parents are married, then the legal paternity of the father is typically automatic. For unmarried parents, paternity can be established either by voluntarily acknowledging paternity or through DNA genetic testing.
Voluntary Acknowledgement of Paternity
Voluntarily acknowledging paternity usually requires that the mother and father both sign a written affidavit or declaration, often in the presence of a witness.
Many fathers acknowledge paternity at the hospital when the child is born at the same time their name is added to the birth certificate, but paternity can be established at a later date as well at your state’s local department of health and human services.
There are time restrictions, however, on a father’s ability to acknowledge paternity. Most states limit the time to a few years after the child reaches a certain age.
Paternity by Genetic Testing
Genetic paternity testing uses DNA samples from the presumed father and child to establish a biological match between the man and the child. DNA tests are 99.9% accurate at determining paternity. There are even prenatal paternity tests that can confirm the biological father during pregnancy.
Lots of men voluntarily agree to genetic testing when the paternity of a child is in question. But, sometimes it’s necessary to seek a court’s help to determine paternity.
If the man refuses to cooperate with the process of establishing whether he is or is not the biological father, the mother can file a petition to establish paternity and ask for an order of DNA testing.
Whether fatherhood is acknowledged voluntarily or conclusively proven through a DNA match, then an order of paternity will be entered. An official order of paternity is the first step in the process of seeking other things like custody, child support, and a parenting time schedule.
The Father’s Rights and Obligations
In the eyes of the law, both parents have rights and obligations to their children. That means once paternity is established, the father gets to enjoy certain legal rights, including child custody. But even if a father isn’t awarded custody, he still has the right to:
- Be consulted on all major decisions concerning the child, including choice of school and religion, medical and dental treatment, and extracurricular activities such as sports and hobbies
- Parenting time (visitation), including extended time over holidays and during the summer
- Prevent the child from moving out of state
- Receive information from the child’s teachers and doctors
Legal fathers are also required to fulfill certain responsibilities to the child, starting with the obligation to pay child support.
In addition to child support, fathers may be required to share other child-related costs and expenses, like school tuition, music lessons, sports fees, and other extracurricular activities. The father may also be required to obtain health insurance for the child or add the child as a dependent on his employer-sponsored plan.
Financial Advice Relating to Paternity
One of the goals of establishing paternity is to make sure your child is receiving adequate financial support to meet the child’s needs and keep them as close to the standard of living that they would have enjoyed if their parents were married.
Here is some financial advice that can help minimize the stress and strife that often accompanies child support cases.
Agree on Guideline Child Support if Appropriate
How the amount of child support is calculated is a matter of state law. Relevant factors in calculating child support look at the needs of the child, the standard of living the child would’ve enjoyed if the parents lived together, the financial resources of the parents and the child, and the ability of the obligated parent to pay child support.
To facilitate the uniform and fair calculation of child support, many states use statutory guidelines. Guideline support takes a set percentage of the paying parent’s net income based on the number of children. For example, a state may set guideline support as follows: 20% for one child, 28% for two children, 32% for three, and 40% for four or more.
The rationale behind guideline support is to prevent the non-paying parent from seeking more money than is required to support the child. Guidelines also ensure uniform child support based on net income rather than other issues like fault or bias.
Courts are required to follow the guidelines unless the judge determines that there is a legitimate reason for a deviation. If guideline support is sufficient based on the needs and expenses of the child, then agreeing to guideline support can avoid costly protracted litigation over setting the appropriate amount of child support.
If Guideline Child Support Isn’t Enough, Ask for More
Despite the noble goals of guideline support, not every case fits. If that’s the case, you may need to make a case for deviating from the guidelines.
Sometimes guideline support doesn’t provide enough financial support, especially if the child has special medical or educational needs. In this case, you would ask for an upward deviation.
By the same token, if the paying parent’s net income is so significant that the guidelines would result in a windfall to the receiving parent, the paying parent could seek a downward deviation.
Even though guideline support is the rule in many jurisdictions, the ability to ask a court for a deviation recognizes that there are exceptions. If you think your case falls outside of the guidelines, seeking a deviation is important to make sure the unique circumstances of your case are considered.
Securing Child Support Payments With Life Insurance
The obligation to pay child support generally continues until a child reaches a certain age (usually 18), graduates from high school, enters the military, gets married, or some other emancipating event occurs. But what happens if the father, who is ordered to pay support, dies before the child is legally emancipated?
One practical solution is to have the father obtain a life insurance policy with a death benefit that is sufficient to cover his financial responsibilities to the child. Many courts will place life insurance obligations on the support-paying parent in marital settlement agreements, parenting agreements, and child support orders.
Keep in mind that life insurance policies will not pay death benefits to a minor. If the beneficiary of a life insurance policy is under the legal age of majority, then the court will appoint a guardian and the life insurance proceeds will be paid to the court-appointed guardian.
Paternity Creates Rights and Obligations
Paternity is an important means of securing financial support from the child’s father. But single moms should understand that paternity also confers parental rights on the father, like parenting time with his child and participating in making major decisions concerning the child.
When parents aren’t married, establishing paternity is the first step to ensuring the financial support of the father. For most cases, guideline child support will be sufficient, but every case is different. Make sure you consult with a legal expert to help you obtain the appropriate child support order to meet the best interests of your child.
Lauren Blair writes and researches for the insurance site, USInsuranceAgents.com. She aims to help both mothers and fathers raise their children in a loving, secure environment.