The prospect of becoming a father garners a multitude of responses. Some men are ecstatic at the idea of raising and taking care of a child, whom they often hope will turn into a mini version of themselves. Others freak out a bit, the whole time feeling completely inadequate to the task at hand.

Still, others reject the idea from the very beginning. They feel they’re just not meant to be a father, that they’ve never experienced the paternal instinct. It’s no secret that becoming a parent is just as scary as it is wonderfully rewarding. We’re all imperfect and the thought of the amount of responsibility that’s required to raise a child is truly daunting.

It can be even scarier if the future father isn’t sure whether the child is actually his or not. No one wants to be a victim of fraud, especially when it comes to something as sacred as fatherhood. Many men, even some of those who are adamant that they don’t want to be fathers, eventually warm up to the idea – particularly after they hold the child for the first time.

It can be heartbreaking, then, when a man is told the child isn’t his. How can a man protect himself?

The best thing he can do is request – or even demand – a paternity test. Is establishing paternity really that important? It is because it can protect a man whether he’s the father of the child or not. It can also protect the mother and child. Let us explain why establishing whether a man is the father of a child or not is vital to everyone involved.

​What Is Paternity and Why Is It Important to Know About?

father holding a baby

To fully understand what rights a father has, it’s important to first understand the laws pertaining to paternity. If a child is born outside of wedlock (in other words, a legal marriage) and paternity isn’t established, both the child and the father can lose out on a lot.

The child can lose out on inheritance rights, as well as child support while they’re a minor. The father can lose out on custody rights, including those that allow him to spend time with the child and make important life decisions along with his partner or ex.

In a lot of cases, the father will acknowledge paternity as soon as he finds out that his future child’s mother is pregnant. Sometimes, though, there are men who fail to make this acknowledgment. If this happens, the mother has an opportunity to take legal action.

According to a legal dictionary, this action is called “a paternity action to adjudicate fatherhood.” In previous centuries, if a couple was legally married and the wife became pregnant, the child was deemed to be the father’s no matter what. Even if the wife had an adulterous affair, the child was still considered to be her husband’s.

The reason for this was due to the fact that adultery and illegitimacy resulted in social stigma. As bad it was for the parents, the stigma perpetuated could be even worse for the child. It wasn’t until the 19th century that a husband could rebut the “presumption of legitimacy.” If he had the evidence to prove that he was impotent or that his wife had been in an adulterous affair, he had a case.

In recent years, genetic testing has made it much easier to prove or disprove whether a man is the true father of a child or not. These tests can be done voluntarily, or they can be court-ordered.  

​Important Factors about Paternity
That Everyone Needs to Be Aware Of

Do you have children outside of a legal marriage? Whether you know for sure that they’re your kids or not, here are some paternity factors that you and your partner or ex should be aware of.

Legitimation – Why You Need to Know

Having a child within the boundaries of a legal marriage, the child is automatically legitimized. But children born outside of wedlock are not immediately considered legitimate. Avoiding legitimation for too long can result in the child missing out on their inheritance rights. It also means that the father doesn’t possess the same rights as the child’s mother does.

In order to protect the child, as well as the father’s rights, the parents must go through a legal process called legitimization.

father and son

What’s involved in this process?

If the child’s mother recognizes the paternity of the father, they can enter into an agreement called “acknowledgment of legitimization.” The father has until the child’s first birthday for this agreement to take place. If the woman was married to someone else when she became pregnant, this sort of acknowledgment is useless without proof of paternity and a petition of legitimization.

Additionally, if the man was the unmarried partner of the woman and she refuses to provide an acknowledgment of legitimization, the father has to file a petition. In order for the court to consider the petition, the father has to be considered a suitable parent, in addition to filing the petition within a reasonable amount of time. Waiting longer than the first birthday of the child is considered “unreasonable delay,” which can result in the forfeiture of his parental rights.

Paternity Fraud – Yes, It Really Happens (and How to Protect Yourself)

As was mentioned, determining paternity is a protection for the father in that it gives him the opportunity to exercise his parental rights. However, it also protects men in another way. If the man is not the legitimate father of the child, he isn’t financially responsible for the child.

There have been cases in which women will claim that a man is the father of their child. The man will then get back into a relationship with the woman (if the relationship was dissolved) and assume responsibility for the child. Or, if the man decides not to get back together with the woman, he may pay child support every month.

In either case, he may (or may not) find out down the road that the child isn’t really his. A woman might also claim that her husband is the father’s child in order to cover up infidelity. This tactic – legally referred to as paternity fraud – can be heartbreaking for the children, their biological father (whose rights might have been violated), and the man who’s taken responsibility for the child.

Genetic testing should be done if there’s any question as to whether the man is the child’s biological father or not. It’s recommended that you talk to a family law attorney to find out which tests will be admissible in court.

Do Fathers Have Just as Many Legal Entitlements as Mothers?

Parents with baby

It’s a common understanding that mothers have more custody/legal entitlements than fathers do. The truth of the matter is, though, that this isn’t true. The laws pertaining to custody in the U.S. and much of Western society treat fathers and mothers equally. There is no preferential treatment for mothers.

Judges who determine custody outcomes are required to take a lot of information into consideration. But ultimately, their main concern is what’s best for the child. They recognize that it’s usually best for a child to have access to, as well as the love and support of, both parents.

The father has just as much say in their child’s upbringing and daily life as the mother. The only condition is if the father is somehow an unfit parent.

​Understand Your Rights so You Can Safeguard Yourself
and Your Children

Establishing whether a man is the true father of a child or not is vital to everyone involved – the father, mother, and the child. If the child is yours, then you are entitled to some rights as a father. You have the legal right to spend time with your child, unless there’s a question about the child’s safety.

Most men are able to be fit fathers, but there are a select few who actually endanger the child, whether physically, mentally, or emotionally. If you and your partner are no longer together and can’t come to a custody agreement, a court will decide what’s best for the child based on the evidence presented. The judge will do their best to be fair to both parties as they know that, ultimately, getting to spend time with both parents is best for the child.

There’s another reason it’s important to establish who the father is: It can serve as a protection for both the mother and the child in that the father is required by law to provide financial support. Once a man has been identified as the father of a child, he has to make child support payments. The court will decide how much this is, based on the needs of the child and the means of the father.

Some men claim a child isn’t theirs simply to avoid having to provide any support. But once a paternity test has identified the father, he’s legally required to care for his child. If he refuses to make those payments, he can be subjected to legal action.

Understanding paternity, as well as the responsibilities and privileges it entitles a father to have, can help both mothers and fathers protect themselves and their rights. And most importantly, it is a source of protection for the children as well.  

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