Paternity Issues in Family Law: Establishing Parental Rights and Responsibilities

Both the US and Utah state constitutions establish what parents already know – that they have fundamental rights and responsibilities toward their children. However, sometimes, there is a need to legally establish paternity to protect the rights of each parent and, most importantly, the child involved.

Utah law has comprehensive provisions for establishing paternity and sets out the responsibilities that each parent has toward his or her child. Thus, state law determines how paternity may be established when children are born to married or unmarried parents and when they are born via assisted reproduction.

In this article, we will take an in-depth look at how you can establish paternity for your child and protect his or her rights. If you are currently facing this challenge, you do not have to go it alone. The experienced and compassionate attorneys at Brown Family Law are here to help. Call us 24/7 at 801-685-9999 for a free legal consultation to understand your options.

The Importance of Establishing Paternity in Utah

Before a child can enjoy the rights and protections offered by Utah law, paternity must be established.

When the parents are married to each other, the husband and wife are automatically recognized as the child’s legal parents. This gives both parents the same rights and responsibilities. However, if the husband is not the child’s biological father, a family lawyer may be able to help him establish paternity.

Paternity issues can arise in several situations, including custody and divorce proceedings as well as applications for the judicial recognition of a relationship as a marriage. Establishing paternity is crucial to ensure that a child’s rights are protected during childhood and adulthood.

How Paternity Is Established

When a child’s parents are not married to each other, the father’s rights are not automatically established. Instead, he must establish paternity in one of the following three ways.

Voluntary Declaration of Paternity (VDP)

At the time of a child’s birth or shortly after that, the mother and biological father can complete a Voluntary Declaration of Paternity (VDP) to establish paternity. This is regulated by the Voluntary Declaration of Paternity Act.

The VDP can be completed at the birthing facility or the local health department. Both parents must sign the form. If the mother is married and her husband is not the father of the child, he must also be willing to sign the VDP.

While the VDP establishes paternity, it has limitations. For example, it does not establish or enforce:

It is possible for the parents to come to an agreement on these matters privately. However, they may need to file a custody case if an agreement cannot be reached.

When a custody case is filed, the court may then issue a custody order to enforce custody, visitation, financial support, and other arrangements. An experienced child custody attorney from Brown Family Law is well-placed to guide you through this process.

Administrative paternity order

When the parent with custody of the child applies for cash assistance from the state, the Office of Recovery Services (ORS) will automatically apply for an administrative paternity order. The ORS will issue both parents a Notice of Agency Action (NAA) to establish paternity.

At this point, genetic testing may be used to establish that the alleged father is the child’s biological father. If you have an open case with the ORS, genetic testing is normally free.

Similar to the VDP, an administrative paternity order does not establish arrangements for parent-time, custody, or other parenting matters. However, it can order child support based on the Child Support Calculator. The order will also include financial arrangements for the child’s health care and other expenses.

Judicial paternity order

Either parent can file a custody case and ask the court to establish paternity. If the potential father is unwilling to undergo genetic testing voluntarily, the court may order him to do so by filing a Motion for Genetic testing.

Suppose the father is unavailable or has died. The court may order one of his relatives to submit a DNA specimen to be tested.

What if there is more than one potential father? The court can order genetic testing to be carried out on each man either concurrently or consecutively.

Once paternity is established, the court will issue a decree of parentage. It also has the authority to amend a child’s birth certificate.

The court can also issue a child custody order, defining the terms for both legal and physical custody. Legal custody establishes which parent has the legal right to make important decisions on the child’s behalf, while physical custody sets out where the child lives.

The custody order can also establish the following:

  • Parent time (also called visitation) arrangements
  • Child support payments, to be paid by the non-custodial parent
  • Relocation arrangements when one parent moves 150 miles or more away from the other parent

Time limits on establishing paternity

An unmarried father must file a paternity suit or complete a VDP within 30 days of the child’s birth to establish that he is the legal father.

He may also file a paternity suit before the child is born. Doing so promptly protects the father’s parental rights. But failure to do so would mean the mother had the right to put the child up for adoption without notifying the father.

Paternity and Assisted Reproduction

There are times under Utah law when the biological father does not have parental rights. When children are conceived outside of a sexual relationship, two Utah codes may come to bear – 78B-15-7 Assisted Reproduction and 78B-15-8 Gestational Agreement.

According to Utah’s assisted reproduction statutes, when a child is conceived by assisted reproduction, the donor is not considered to be a parent unless the donor is the husband. The husband is also considered the father if he consents to his wife undergoing assisted reproduction.

Under the terms of gestational agreements in Utah, the prospective gestational mother and her husband – if she is married – must give up all parental rights and duties. The intended parents will be named the child’s parents on the birth certificate. If there is any doubt about the child’s parentage, the court may order a DNA test.

Parental Rights and Responsibilities

Establishing paternity is important for protecting the rights of both the child and the mother and father.

Financial support obligations

The mother and child benefit from receiving financial support. This may include:

  • Child support payments
  • Health insurance benefits
  • Social Security benefits
  • Inheritance rights
  • Veteran’s benefits

Custody and visitation rights

Unless paternity is established, the mother is the only parent with the right to physical and legal custody of her child. The presumed father would have no legal rights to visit or have any form of custody of his child.

However, when paternity is established, either a voluntary or court-enforced parent-time agreement can be established. This protects the father’s rights and allows him to be actively involved in his child’s upbringing.

Decision-making responsibilities

Both parents have equal rights and responsibilities in making decisions that affect their children. This includes choices about healthcare, religious activities, and education.

Parenting plans can establish:

  • Communication expectations
  • How decisions will be made
  • How disputes will be resolved

The Role of Family Law Attorneys

Establishing your child’s paternity can give him a good start in life. However, trying to negotiate the complicated legal processes involved can be overwhelming. Working with an experienced family law attorney can set your mind at rest.

Family law attorneys have experience in navigating paternity laws to help you find the right solution in your situation. They can act as mediators, helping you come to an agreement without going to court. If needed, your lawyers can file paperwork on your behalf to establish or challenge paternity through the courts.

Family law attorneys are also skilled at helping former couples come to amicable arrangements around custody, visitation, and decision-making. By taking the emotion out of the situation, they could negotiate a solution that works for both parents and, most importantly, serves your child’s best interests.

Let Brown Family Law Fight for Your Child’s Rights

We understand that you want the very best for your child. He or she has the right to receive support from both parents, and Utah law rigorously protects those rights. However, knowing you have rights and responsibilities and understanding how to access them can be two different things.

It is easy for tensions to run high when dealing with paternity issues, especially when a relationship has broken down.

Suppose you are a mother raising a child alone. In that case, you will doubtless be facing many concerns about the future, including how to support your children and protect their inheritance rights down the line.

On the other hand, a father looking to establish paternity will want to ensure he has custody and visitation rights and remains involved in his child’s upbringing.

This is why support and guidance from an experienced lawyer is essential. The compassionate attorneys at Brown Family Law have years of experience in smoothing out legal proceedings for Salt Lake City families. We aim to take the burden off your shoulders and help you maximize your time with your kids.

Whether you are a mother or father, establishing paternity is a crucial step on the road to having both parents actively involved in their child’s life. Do not delay in establishing your parental rights. Call us anytime at 801-685-9999 or contact us online to schedule a legal consultation and understand your legal options.

Published On: February 16th, 2024Categories: Child Custody, Child SupportComments Off on Paternity Issues in Family Law: Establishing Parental Rights and Responsibilities
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About the Author: Marco Brown
Marco C. Brown was named Utah’s Outstanding Family Law Lawyer of the Year in 2015. He graduated with distinction from the University of Nebraska College of Law in 2007 and is currently the managing partner of Brown Family Law, LLC.
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