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How Do I Bring a Parentage Action?

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To put it as simply as possible, parentage generally refers to a person being the legal parent of a child. The term is most often used in the context of a father in a situation when there is a question about paternity. 

Parentage can become a major issue in legal actions when a mother is seeking child support or parental responsibility. While parentage is often presumed when men and women are married at the time of birth, unwed couples can face other difficulties in establishing parentage.

Reasons for Establishing Parentage

Establishing parentage will be important not just for obtaining child support, but also to give a child born to unmarried parents the same rights and privileges as a child born within a marriage. Some of these rights and privileges can include:

  • Support from both parents.
  • Access to family medical records that could be important if a disease, illness, congenital disability, or another health problem is passed to a child by their parents
  • A parent’s medical or life insurance coverage
  • Secures inheritance rights
  • Eligibility for Social Security and veteran’s benefits

Beyond all of these reasons, there will simply be the emotional benefit for a child of knowing who their parents are. In general, the person who establishes parentage may be a child’s biological mother, a person who believes they are the parent of a child, or even the child themselves.

How Parentage Cases Get Handled

Without a Voluntary Acknowledgement of Parentage (VAP), a person interested in becoming a legal parent will have to complete the appropriate petition to be either the mother or the father of a child. There will also be a notice to the presumed parent and a parentage summons that notifies the presumed parent about the case, and you could also need to file an affidavit of military service or an application for waiver of court fees if you are having difficulty paying the court costs.

You will file your forms with the appropriate court, usually the court in the county where the child lives. Present a copy of your petition and summons to the local sheriff to have them served to the presumed parent.

It is important to have the respondent served because failure to do so can result in the dismissal of your case. The sheriff should provide you with proof of service to notify you of service of the documents to the presumed parent.

It may be recommended that you take a parenting class before your hearing, and be sure to take proof of the parenting class to your hearing. Similarly, any planned parenting plan should also be brought to court.

When the other parent appears in court and agrees with your parentage request, a judge will usually approve your request and sign an order for parentage and allocation of parental responsibilities. When the other parent does not appear in court, you may ask the court to find them in default but you could also be ordered to complete and send the other parent another notice of hearing.

Should the other parent continue to fail to appear for court hearings, a judge will ultimately ask you a series of questions and then may grant your request. Proof of a parenting class may be required by this point, but you should receive an order for parentage and allocation of parental responsibilities, you will then mail a copy to the other parent.

When the other parent does come to court and disagrees with your desires, the judge could order DNA testing. You could have to pay for this test yourself, or the costs may be shared with the other parent.

Should the DNA test prove you are the parent, the other parent may still dispute the allocation of parental responsibilities. In these cases, you will likely have a contested case that could go to mediation.

Mediation should produce an agreement between the parties, but that is not always the outcome. When mediation fails to produce an agreement, then your case could head all the way to trial.

For help with any kind of parentage issue, you should know that nothing will work in your favor more than hiring an experienced family law attorney to represent you throughout your entire court process so you do not have to deal with anything on your own. Family law cases can be especially complicated and also very emotional, so retaining legal counsel is strongly recommended for you to secure the most favorable outcome for your case.