When a married couple has a baby in Maryland, each person in the couple is automatically viewed as being the legal parents of the baby. They automatically have the rights and obligations of parenthood. However, when a couple is not married, only the mother is automatically recognized as a parent with the attendant responsibilities and rights. Further action needs to be taken to establish paternity.
Establishing paternity is an important step to claiming the rights and responsibilities of fatherhood in Maryland. The court will not order custody, visitation, or child support unless paternity is established either because the father admits paternity or someone else proves he is the father. There are four ways to establish paternity. In addition to being married before the child’s birth, a couple can establish paternity by having the father and mother marry after the baby is born with the father verbally acknowledging the baby is his, the parents signing an Affidavit of Parentage and having the father’s name added to the birth certificate, or bringing a lawsuit to establish paternity.
Going to court is the most difficult of these options. However, you should not sign an affidavit if you are an alleged father with doubts about paternity. The affidavit is legally binding. By signing the affidavit, the father gets the right to go to court and ask for custody or visitation.
Either parent can bring a paternity action. A government lawyer can also bring this action if the mother or the child is receiving state financial assistance. The court will order genetic testing if anybody asks for it. At trial, a judge will decide whether an alleged father is in fact the father. If he finds that the alleged father is the father, he can issue a final paternity judgment of filiation and issue an order that spells out financial obligations, custody, and visitation.
Blood tests may be ordered from the alleged father, child, and mother in a proceeding to establish paternity. The results are available in 1-2 months and are very reliable at indicating the likelihood of paternity.
Rights and privileges of paternity include financial support from both parents, legal documentation, access to family medical records that would disclose disease, illness and other health problems, medical and life insurance, and other benefits from a parent where available. Research also shows emotional benefits to children who have both parents involved in their upbringing.
If an alleged father does not cooperate with a mother’s efforts to establish paternity and refuses to acknowledge the validity of the blood tests, it is likely the matter will be set for a hearing or trial. The mother will have to put forward facts about the relationship and the child’s birth, as well as details about whether the alleged father ever provided money for the child, and whether the alleged father ever made any admissions about paternity or gave any gifts to the child.
What if the alleged father is poor or unemployed? It is still important to establish paternity so that child support can be collected once he is employed and because it is often important for children to have the emotional benefits of knowing who their father is. If the father isn’t in Maryland, a local court can still decide paternity as long as he is served with a formal complaint. It may be harder to enforce any subsequent child support orders if the father lives outside of Maryland.
Child support and paternity present sensitive issues that require special care. Contact an experienced Maryland family law attorney for representation and legal guidance.
Failure to Pay Child Support, Maryland Divorce Lawyer Blog, May 22, 2014
Is There Palimony For Cohabiting Partners in Maryland, Maryland Divorce Lawyer Blog, May 7, 2014