When a child is born to married parents, the woman’s husband giving birth is presumed to be the father and will be listed on the baby’s birth certificate. When the couple is unmarried, however, there is no such assumption of paternity. Even if you are with your child’s mother when she gives birth, you should fill out an Acknowledgement of Paternity form if you want to be on your baby’s birth certificate and receive all of the rights (and responsibilities) of legal fatherhood. This article explores Acknowledgment of Paternity (AOP) must-knows, what it means for you, and what you can do if you did not sign it at the time of your child’s birth.
What Is an Acknowledgement of Paternity (AOP)?
As the name implies, an Acknowledgement of Paternity (AOP) is a legal document that allows parents who aren’t married to establish legal paternity. The unmarried mother and father identify a child’s father. The AOP form can be signed at the hospital or birth center after the baby is born or thereafter.
If the AOP form is signed before the birth certificate is requested, the father’s name will go on the birth certificate. If not, then the birth certificate can be updated later to show who the rightful father is. When you sign the AOP form, you might need to have one or two witnesses. This depends on the state you live in.
Effects of Signing an Acknowledgement of Paternity Form
When you acknowledge that a child belongs to you and that you are that child’s father, you gain rights and responsibilities. The primary right that you get is the parental right to see your child and contribute to their upbringing. If you live with your child’s mother, then this is not typically an issue.
However, if not, you may need to work out a child custody arrangement with your child’s mother. This can be done just between the two of you, or you might need to go through the legal processes. Having parental rights does not necessarily mean that you will have custody of your child 50 percent of the time.
Very young children (infants and toddlers) often need to spend more time with their mothers, mainly breastfed. Even if you are not with your child’s mother, you should still spend time with your baby. You might not have overnight visitation at first, but being able to participate in caring for your child several days per week can give you a great foundation to build a relationship.
As time goes by and your baby is less dependent on his or her mom for nutrition, you will likely be able to see the baby more frequently and have him or her stay overnight with you. There are cases where a father might not have visitation or might be limited to supervised visitation with his child, but this happens in specific circumstances, including (but not limited to)
- Abuse (physical and mental)
- Substance abuse and addiction
In addition to parental rights, you will also have responsibilities. One big commitment is that you will need to work with your child’s mother to raise your child. This includes an enormous financial burden. The two of you will need to team up to pay for the things that your child needs.
You might be ordered to pay child support if you do not live with your child’s mother, as well as pay for half of any copays at the doctor, daycare bills, summer camp, orthodontic braces, and so on. Finally, signing this form gives your child the right to benefit from social security or other benefits if you were to die before he or she turns 18.
If an AOP Is Not Signed at the Time of Birth
If you do not sign the Acknowledgement of Paternity form when your child is born, you can sign it later. Where you go will depend on where you live. If you call the department that handles birth certificates in your city or county, they can tell you exactly where to file the form if you desire to do so after the birth certificate has already been filed.
If you and your child’s mother both sign the form, your name can be added to the birth certificate. Signing this form does not necessarily mean that your child’s last name will change to your last name, but you can try to work this out with your child’s mother if given the baby her last name.
Should the Mother Dispute the Father’s Paternity Claim
If your child’s mother thinks there is a chance that you are not the child’s father, you should not sign the Acknowledgement of Paternity form until and unless you have genetic testing done to see whether you are the child’s father. You cannot sign it if she is married to someone else or, in many states, if she was married to someone else at any point in the pregnancy.
In that case, her husband will be the presumed father of the child and would need to take legal action (depending on the state) to have himself removed from the birth certificate. If you’re unsure whether the child is biologically yours, a DNA test can settle the matter. This usually involves a cheek swab from you and the child. The results will tell you very accurately whether you are or are not the child’s father.
If it turns out that you are, you can then sign the Acknowledgement of Paternity form. Fatherhood is very rewarding and goes far beyond signing a form. Still, if you are not married to your child’s mother, signing the Acknowledgement of Paternity form is the first step toward making your relationship with your child official and legal. Contact Family Law Legal Group today to establish your father’s rights.