An Overview of Paternity
“Paternity” means fatherhood and “establishing paternity” refers to the determination of a child’s “legal” father and the related rights and obligations of the father to the child. Every child has a biological father, but not every child has a “legal” father. When “paternity has been established” it means that someone has been named the legal father of a child.
Paternity is automatically established if the parents are married to each other when the child is born. The husband is the legal father and his name will be on the child’s birth certificate. In Utah, if the parents of a child are not married to each other when the child is born, the child has no legal father until paternity is established. Once paternity is established, the father’s name will be placed on the child’s birth certificate and the father will gain certain rights to the child.
Establishing Paternity in Utah
In Utah, paternity can be established either “voluntarily” by signing a Voluntary Declaration of Paternity form or “involuntarily” through a court or administrative order.
When the mother and father agree that the father is in fact the biological father, paternity can be established voluntarily. This requires both the father and mother to sign what’s called a “Voluntary Declaration of Paternity.” This is often done at the hospital when the child is born. The form can also be obtained later from the Department of Health’s Vital Records and Statistics office and from local health departments. One form must be signed by both the mother and the father and witnessed by two adults that are not related to the mother and father.
If the father is under 18 years old, his parent or guardian must also sign the form. The form must then be filed with, or sent to, the Department of Health’s Vital Records and Statistics office. Once the Declaration is properly filed with Vital Records, the father is the legal father of the child and his name will be added to the child’s birth certificate.
In Utah, involuntary establishment of paternity is done one of two ways: through a judicial proceeding in court or through an administrative proceeding by the Office of Recovery Services. These methods are called “involuntary” because someone disputes paternity.
To begin the court process, the mother, father, or child must file a “Petition to Adjudicate Paternity” in the District or Juvenile Court in the county where the child lives. If either the mother or the father denies or is uncertain of paternity, the court may order DNA or genetic testing.
Today, a DNA test requires that the child, mother, and father have the inside of their cheeks swabbed. The DNA is then sent to a laboratory for analysis. If, after DNA testing, the court determines that the father is in fact the biological father, the court will issue an order of paternity, making the father the legal father and his name will be added to the child’s birth certificate. Within the court proceeding to determine paternity, the court can also issue orders of custody, visitation, and child support.
Office of Recovery Services
The Utah Office of Recovery Services’ Child Support Services (ORS) pursue paternity and child support actions through an administrative proceeding when the child is receiving public assistance. ORS will also pursue an administrative proceeding when the mother or father applies for assistance from ORS to obtain or update an order for child support. In this administrative process, ORS will “serve,” or give, to each parent a “Notice of Agency Action,” which is a document that notifies the parents of the proceeding. The Notice will contain either an appointment for DNA tests or instructions on how to request DNA testing. Usually, when your paternity case goes through ORS, the DNA tests are provided at no cost. If the test confirms the father as the biological father, ORS has the authority to declare the father the legal father, add the father’s name to the birth certificate, and establish a child support order. ORS does not make orders regarding custody or visitation. Even though the court is not involved, ORS’ orders have the same effect as a court order.
Benefits of Establishing Paternity
Establishing paternity means more than just having a father named on the child’s birth certificate. There are benefits for the child, the mother, and the father when paternity is established.
Establishing paternity helps children:
- have a relationship with both parents
- learn about family history, including medical histories, and
- access medical insurance and other benefits like life insurance, Social Security, Veterans benefits, and inheritance
Establishing paternity helps mothers to:
- share the responsibilities of parenthood and
- share the costs of raising their child (once paternity is established, the mother can seek court ordered child support).
Establishing paternity helps fathers to:
- gain legal rights to their child (like being able to ask a court for custody of or visitation with their child)
- show they care about their child
- establish a bond with their child, and
- participate in their child’s life.