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Unmarried dads should establish paternity early

Fathers of children born out of wedlock can find themselves at a legal disadvantage if their relationships with their children's mother deteriorates. Depending on whether or not paternity was legally established, they may not even have the right to see their own kids.

Leaving something as important as your parenting rights to the whims of an ex-partner is not wise. That's why when unmarried couples have babies, establishing paternity should be paramount.

In cases where couples don't marry until after the birth of their babies, the fathers can sign forms legitimizing their children. Doing so gives them all of the rights of children born during a marriage, which include:

-- Rights of inheritance.

-- Entitlement to Social Security or other government benefits.

-- Eligibility for health insurance under the dad's policy.

-- Entitlement to wrongful death benefits in cases where the father dies due to another party's negligence.

-- Access to the father's medical history, paternal relatives and all of the benefits children reap from nurturing relationships with their fathers.

Couples who choose not to marry can have the dad voluntarily acknowledge paternity with an affidavit filed with the court. This is either done immediately at the hospital or at some future point, and the father is then added to the birth certificate.

When this isn't done, an unmarried dad could find himself unable to visit his sick child in the hospital, inquire about the child's educational progress or even see or speak to them should the mother choose to shut him out of their lives.

If you are an unmarried father who is concerned about the future welfare of his children in the event of a break-up or death, seeking legal guidance in the matter is advisable.

Source: Findlaw, "Chronology: Establishing Paternity," accessed Dec. 24, 2015

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