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What unmarried fathers need to know about paternity

People who are married with kids rarely have to give the subject of paternity much thought. But for men and women who are single when they have children, this legal designation isn't something to take lightly.

Whether you are a father seeking to establish paternity to create a meaningful relationship with your child or you are looking to prove that you are not the father to avoid financial obligations, you need to understand your rights and be sure to take the appropriate steps.

What does establishing paternity mean?

Paternity establishment in the state of New York is the process of determining the legal father of the child in question.

It's important that all parents understand that the state of New York only recognizes and automatically presumes paternity of a child if the father is married to the child's mother at birth or the parents were married during pregnancy. This is significant because a lack of established paternity may have unintended consequences. If you are a father without paternity rights, your child may be ineligible for certain forms of financial support from you, such as Social Security, veteran or insurance benefits, not to mention the right to inherit assets from you without a will.

For unmarried mothers, establishing paternity can translate to greater financial security for a child, whether through child support, the father's insurance benefits, or a combination of income sources. Having two parents also can provide much more emotional stability for a child.

Unmarried parents can establish paternity in a couple of different ways:

· By signing a voluntary acknowledgment of paternity form

· By petitioning a court to determine paternity

What about child custody for unmarried fathers?

Being designated the legal father of your child also gives you parental rights, including child custody and visitation, if you are no longer in a relationship with the child's mother. It's worth noting, however, that a biological father has a right to seek child custody or child visitation regardless of whether he was married to the child's mother when their child was born.

In New York, courts use the child's best interests to decide disputed child custody and visitation cases involving unmarried fathers. Unless evidence indicates otherwise, it's presumed that the involvement of both parents in a child's upbringing benefits the child.

What should you do if paternity is in doubt?

The most important thing is not to sign an Acknowledgement of Paternity form. Instead, parents can petition a family court to determine paternity. The court will order you, the mother and your child to submit to some genetic tests. Depending on the results, the court will determine whether you are the legal father.

Whatever your scenario, you want to select an effective family law attorney who focuses on fathers' rights to stand up for you when it counts.

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