Every child has one biological father. But if the child’s parents are unmarried at the time of the child’s birth, the father needs to take certain steps in order to become the child’s legal parent. This is known as establishing paternity. If an unmarried father fails to take these steps, he will not have parental rights and responsibilities.

If you are an unmarried father, it’s important to seek legal representation from an experienced Peekskill family attorney as soon as possible. Your attorney can assist you with the process of establishing paternity and gaining parental rights.

What Are the Benefits of Establishing Paternity?

Everyone benefits from establishing paternity, including the child, mother, and father. Some of the many ways that a child benefits from paternity establishment are:

• Emotional support from both parents
• Insurance coverage or other benefits provided by their legal father
• Financial support
• Insight into their father’s medical history
• Right to inherit property from the father

The mother benefits from the establishment of paternity as well. Some of these benefits include:

• Sharing the responsibility of raising a child with another person
• Financial help

Establishing paternity will also benefit the father in many ways, including:

• Becoming a legal father
• Right to seek custody or court-ordered visitation
• Right to stay informed regarding the child’s life
• Sharing a special bond with their child

How Can You Establish Paternity in New York?

There are two ways for an unmarried couple to establish paternity in the state of New York. The first is signing an Acknowledgement of Paternity form, which is available at hospitals, child support offices, and birth registrars throughout the state.

If both parents agree on the identity of the father, signing an Acknowledgement of Paternity form is the easiest and best way to establish paternity. But if either party is not certain of the identity of the father, this is not the best option for establishing paternity.

The second way to establish paternity is to file a petition with the court. Any party, including the mother, father, or child, can file this petition and ask the court to assist with the establishment of paternity. If this petition is filed, the court will order all three parties to submit to genetic testing.

If the results show that the father is indeed the biological father of the child, the court will issue an order of filiation. This court order will officially establish the father as the legal parent of the child.

Can Unmarried Fathers Win Custody of Their Child?

If you are an unmarried father at the time of your child’s birth, you cannot ask for custody of your child until you have legally established paternity. Remember, you will not have rights as the legal father of the child until you have taken the steps to establish paternity. If you don’t establish paternity, the mother of the child could have sole custody.

After establishing paternity, unmarried fathers can seek custody or visitation in court. The court’s main priority in child custody cases is protecting the child’s best interests. Most of the time, a joint custody arrangement is in the best interests of the child.

However, in some cases, a sole custody arrangement is in the child’s best interests. For example, a court may grant the mother sole custody of the child if the father has a history of:

• Being physically or verbally abusive
• Abusing alcohol or drugs
• Abandoning the child
• Severe mental illness

If a parent struggles with one or more of these issues, they may not be awarded custody of the child. The courts are more partial to joint custody for both parents because it is often what’s best for the child.

On What Grounds Can Your Paternal Rights be Revoked?

Establishing paternity helps you gain parental rights. But these rights can be terminated under certain circumstances. A child services agency may file a petition with the court to terminate your rights if they believe you are an unfit parent.

The five legal grounds to involuntarily terminate a parent’s rights are:

• Child abandonment
• Neglect
• Mental illness
• Mental retardation
• Severe, persistent abuse

The agency that files the petition will need to provide proof of one of the above conditions. Without proof, the court cannot involuntarily terminate your parental rights.

If you are an unmarried father who needs to establish paternity or fight the involuntary termination of your parental rights, seek legal representation from an experienced fathers’ rights attorney as soon as possible.

Call Kimberly Pelesz today on (914)402-4541 for a free initial consultation.

Check out one of our recent blogs here: JOINT VS SOLE CUSTODY –WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE?

By: Kimberly Pelesz

Family law and criminal defense attorney Kimberly A. Pelesz received a B.S. degree magna cum laude and an M.P.A. degree summa cum laude from Binghamton University. She earned her J.D. from Pace University School of Law in White Plains, where she was selected for Phi Alpha Delta. Her charitable activities include work with My Sisters’ Place in White Plains and the Westchester County District Attorney’s Humane Education Taskforce.

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