If parents are married when a child is born, there is usually no question about parentage. The law assumes that the husband is the father and the wife is the mother, so paternity is automatically established in most cases.
But for unmarried parents, parentage of their children needs to be established legally.
In parentage cases, also called “paternity cases,” the court makes orders that say who the child’s legal parents are.
Establishing parentage is very important for a child. First, the child gets the emotional benefit of knowing who both of his or her parents are. And, legally, it entitles the child to the same rights and privileges as those of a child whose parents are married.
These legal rights and privileges are:
Financial support from both parents;
Legal documentation identifying both parents;
Having the names of both parents on the child’s birth certificate;
Access to family medical records and history;
Health and life insurance coverage from either parent;
The right to inherit from either parent; and
The right to receive social security and veteran’s benefits, if available.
Once parentage is established, the court can make orders for child support, health insurance, child custody, visitation, name change, and reimbursement of pregnancy and birth expenses. Without establishing parentage, the court cannot make orders regarding these issues, so if one parent needs child support and the other will not pay voluntarily, the court will not be able to order child support until parentage is established.
And even if one of the child’s biological parents does not have any money or a job to support the child or does not want to be involved in the child’s life, it is still a good idea to establish parentage. The benefits to a child of establishing parentage go far beyond the financial issues as the list above shows and include things like allowing the child to get child support or health insurance later on, when the other parent gets a job or is in a better financial situation.
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