HOW TO ESTABLISH PATERNITY OF A CHILD
BORN TO UNMARRIED PARENTS
Paternity is a legal relationship between a father and his child. If the parents of the child were not married to each other when the child was conceived and/or born, then the father is not the “legal” father, and his name cannot be added to the child's birth certificate until paternity is legally established.
Paternity can be established in 3 ways:
- Both parents complete, sign and have witnessed/dated a Voluntary Acknowledgment of Paternity form;
- An Administrative Paternity Order is entered by the State of Illinois' Department of Healthcare and Family Services’ (HFS) Child Support Services; or
- An Order of Paternity is entered in court by a judge.
It is important to establish paternity in order to:
- Ensure a child’s right to a legal father-child relationship.
- Add the father’s name to the birth certificate.
- Protect the parents’ rights, specifically, the father has no rights regarding the child unless he is legally named as the father and has a court order setting forth his rights regarding joint or sole custody, and visitation with the child.
- Enable access to family medical information.
- Secure the child’s benefits such as financial and medical support, Social Security, veteran’s benefits and inheritance.
How does the State of Illinois establish paternity?
- HFS’ Child Support Services may establish paternity by their administrative process and assess a child support obligation on the father.
- Private legal action known as a “Petition to Establish the Existence of a Father-Child Relationship”, which is filed by either the mother or father in court, which will provide for the establishment of child support obligation on the father, and for the establishment of a joint/sole custody of the child and for visitation by the father with the child.
What is the Voluntary Acknowledgment of Paternity?
The easiest way to establish paternity is to complete a Voluntary Acknowledgment of Paternity (VAP) at the hospital when the child is born. The parents’ rights and responsibilities are also on the VAP. A VAP can be completed, signed and witnessed/dated any time for any child who was born to unmarried parents.
If you are not married at the time your child is born, the hospital staff will give you a VAP. If both parents sign the VAP at the hospital, the father’s name will be added to the child’s birth certificate. If you are not able to sign the VAP before leaving the hospital, you can complete it later and mail it to HFS at the address provided on the back of the form. HFS will send a copy of the VAP to the Department of Public Health, Division of Vital Records so they can add the father’s name to the child's birth certificate. You can get a VAP form at:
- Any Child Support Regional office;
- HFS’ Child Support Website;
- Any Department of Human Services office;
- Any County Clerk’s office; or
- Any state or local Registrar’s office.
What if the husband of a woman who gives birth is not the father?
If the mother was married when the child was conceived and/or born but her husband/ex-husband is not the child’s father, he and the mother may sign a Denial of Paternity form saying he is not the father. Then, the mother and biological father must sign the VAP. The Denial of Paternity and VAP may be signed and witnessed at the hospital when the child is born or at a later date outside the hospital. Denial of Paternity forms can be obtained from the same locations as listed for VAP forms.
Can minor parents sign a VAP?
Yes, minors can sign a VAP without the consent of a parent or guardian. However, paternity is not conclusive until six months after the younger of the parents turns 18 years of age.
Parents are living together or plan to get married. Do they still need to sign a VAP?
Yes. Paternity of a child is not established when the parents are not married at the time the child is born.
Unsure who the father is?
If either party is unsure who the biological father is, a VAP should not be signed. You are entitled to a paternity (genetic) test (fathers may be required to pay for genetic testing) to determine whether the alleged father is indeed the father.
What is a paternity test?
A paternity test is a genetic test that compares the DNA of a child, mother, and alleged father to determine whether the man is or is not the biological father of a child. In most instances, DNA is obtained by swabbing the inside of a person’s cheek. If the man tested is not the biological father, the genetic testing results will prove that with 100% certainty. Under Illinois law, an alleged father is presumed to be the father of the child if genetic test results show the alleged father is at least 1,000 times more likely to be the child’s father than a random, unrelated man in the population. This presumption may be rebutted by a preponderance of the evidence and there is at least a 99.9% probability of paternity.
What if I change my mind after we have signed the VAP?
The Voluntary Acknowledgment of Paternity can be withdrawn (rescinded) if either parent signs a Rescission of Voluntary Acknowledgment of Paternity form and has it witnessed. It must be received by HFS within 60 days of the date the VAP was signed or the date of an administrative or judicial proceeding related to the child, whichever comes first. After the time period for a Rescission has expired, a VAP can only be challenged in court and only on the basis of fraud, duress or material mistake of fact, with the burden of proof on the challenging party. Rescission of Voluntary Acknowledgment of Paternity forms may be obtained from the same locations as listed above for VAP forms.