Paternity in Pennsylvania: What every unmarried father should know

In order for unmarried fathers to have parental rights for their children, they must establish paternity through voluntary acknowledgments or court orders.

When a married couple in Pennsylvania has a child, it is generally presumed that the mother's husband is her child's father. There is no assumption as to the identity of a child's father, however, in cases when his or her parents are unmarried. In order for fathers who are not married to the mothers of their children to enact their parental rights, paternity must be established.

Why is it important to establish paternity?

Legitimating children can be important for fathers, as well as for their children. Until paternity has been established, men do not have any rights to their children. Therefore, they cannot seek child custody or visitation. Additionally, they do not have the right to participate in important decisions regarding their children. As such, they would have no say in decisions pertaining to their children's upbringing, education or medical treatment.

When paternity is established, children may be eligible for certain benefits through both their mothers and their fathers. According to the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare, these benefits include Social Security, U.S. military benefits and health care. In the event of a father's death, his child has the right to inherit from his estate once paternity is established.

Voluntary acknowledgements

The easiest way to establish paternity is by both parents completing an acknowledgement of paternity form. Once both parents sign the form, it is submitted to the Department of Public Welfare. This form is considered conclusive proof of a child's paternity and grants unmarried fathers with legal parental rights. It also subjects them to the obligations of fatherhood, including potentially being ordered to pay child support.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, a father may still file an acknowledgement of paternity in Pennsylvania, even if the mother refuses to sign. In these cases, however, submitting the form will not confer upon the man any parental rights. Rather, it will serve as a claim of paternity and entitle the man to receive notice of any proceedings aimed at terminating any parental rights for the child.

Court orders

When there is a dispute regarding a child's paternity, his or her parents may choose to take legal action. A man may file a complaint to establish paternity, which will initiate court proceedings. During these hearings, the court will determine whether he is a child's natural father. If necessary, the court may order DNA testing to prove whether the man did indeed father the child in question. If the court determines that the man is a child's biological father, then an order of paternity is issued, enacting his parental rights.

Working with an attorney

Navigating the process of establishing paternity can be difficult for some fathers in Pennsylvania. This is particularly true when the mothers dispute their claims. As such, unmarried fathers who wish to establish paternity may benefit from obtaining legal representation. An attorney may help them understand their rights, as well as guide them through the legal process.