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IL familiy lawyerPaternity refers to the legal relationship between a child and the child’s father. When a woman has a baby, she is automatically considered the child’s legal parent. The woman’s husband, if she is married, also becomes the child’s legal parent. However, when unmarried parents have children together, the situation is different. Often, one or both parents will need to take additional steps to establish the legal relationship between the child and the father. Read on to learn about establishing paternity in Illinois and what you can do if you have questions or concerns about paternity.

How Can You Establish the Legal Father-Child Relationship?

Establishing paternity offers important advantages for both parents and children. The easiest way to establish paternity is for both parents to fill out a Voluntary Acknowledgement of Paternity (VAP) and file it with the Illinois Department of Health and Family Services. However, this option is not always possible. If your child’s father refuses to sign the VAP or there is uncertainty about who the child’s father is, you may need to take action through the Department of Healthcare and Family Services (HFS) or the court system. Genetic testing may be needed to verify the father’s biological relationship to the child. Typically, DNA paternity testing is accomplished by taking a small cheek cell sample from the inside of the mouth.

What is the Purpose of Establishing Paternity?

Often, the issue of paternity arises because a mother is seeking child support payments. Court-ordered child support is a crucial form of financial support for single parents. However, you cannot get child support from your child’s father if you have not established paternity. Once the child’s relationship with his or her father is officially established, you can petition the court for child support. The child also becomes entitled to health insurance coverage through the father’s healthcare plan, social security benefits, and inheritance rights. Once paternity is established, the father may also petition the court for parenting time with the child.


IL divorce lawyerAll children are entitled to their parents’ support, including but not limited to financial, emotional, mental, and physical support. No matter the parents’ legal relationship or either parent’s age, no child should be denied the opportunity for a parent-child relationship. It is a shared duty of the parents and the child to establish paternity, which is the legal acknowledgment of the father and child relationship. In general, this is a straightforward process. However, in some cases, paternity is not determined so easily and may require the assistance of the courts and an experienced family law attorney.

Benefits of Establishing Paternity

Determining a child’s paternity can be extremely gratifying for all parties involved. When paternity is established, the father gains visitation rights allowing them to become involved in their child’s life.

A child can significantly benefit when the establishment of paternity leads to an increased standard of living. Coupled with the opportunity to form a meaningful relationship with their father, the child can benefit from any possible child support payments, the father’s medical insurance coverage, and any future inheritance. Additionally, when paternity is determined, the child will be able to fully access their family’s medical history.


Naperville paternity attorneyUnder Illinois law, the legal relationship between a child and his or her father is only presumed if the man was married to child’s mother at the time of, just prior to, or just after the child’s birth. According to the most recent available statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, however, more than 40 percent of all births in the United States are to unmarried mothers. These numbers indicate that, on average, paternity cannot be presumed in about two out of five cases.

The most common method for establishing paternity when there is no existing presumption—or to rebut a presumption in certain cases—is by means of a voluntary acknowledgement of paternity (VAP) form. When both the mother and father complete the form properly, it creates a legal parent-child relationship between the man and his son or daughter. As such, completing the VAP form is an extremely serious matter, and one that should not be taken lightly.

Be Absolutely Certain

Prior to acknowledging paternity voluntarily, it is important that there is no doubt in your mind that you are the child’s father. Once the form has been completed and the time period for rescinding the acknowledgment has passed, you are the child’s father in the eyes of the law. If, down the road, you become aware that you might not be the child’s biological father, it may be too late.


DuPage County family law attorneyIf a woman in Illinois who is married to a man has a child, her husband is automatically presumed to be the child’s biological father. The father will not need to take additional action to establish himself as the child’s legal parent. When unmarried parents have a child together, the father is not automatically considered the legal father until he takes certain steps. Many people falsely assume that a father can gain legal parentage of a child by simply writing his name on the child’s birth certificate. However, before a father can be listed on a child’s birth certificate, he must establish paternity. Depending on the circumstances, DNA testing may be necessary to establish the biological relationship between a child and the child’s presumed father.

Establishing Legal Parentage of a Child

There are three ways that an Illinois parent can establish paternity. If both parents agree that the father is indeed the child’s biological father, the parents can sign a Voluntary Acknowledgement of Paternity (VAP) and file it with the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services (HSF). The VAP form is typically available at the hospital when the baby is born, or it may be obtained through the HSF website, local child support office, County Clerk’s Office, or local Registrar’s office.

If either parent questions the presumed father’s biological relationship with the child, the process for establishing paternity is more complex. In this situation, paternity may be established via an Administrative Paternity Order through the HFS Division of Child Support Services or through an Order of Paternity entered by the court.


DuPage County family law attorneysChild custody and parentage issues can become more complicated when parents are unmarried. Illinois law assumes that the husband of a woman who gives birth is the father of that child. However, an unwed father is not presumed to be the child's biological parent. Fathers who want to become their child’s legal parent must establish parentage. After parentage is established, the father enjoys parental rights and gains certain legal duties to the child.

Benefits of Establishing Parentage

There once was a time when unwed parents were ostracized. Now, about 40 percent of children are born to unmarried mothers according the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). When unmarried parents have a child, a legal relationship between the child and his or her father must be established before a court will order child support. Establishing paternity not only makes the parental relationship official, but also provides the child with emotional and financial support from their noncustodial parent including:

  • Essential communication and relationships with both parents;
  • Child support and federal benefits including Social Security benefits; and
  • Health insurance benefits.

Methods for Establishing Paternity in Illinois

There are several methods unmarried Illinois parents can use to establish parentage. A court an enter an Order of Paternity, parents can complete a Voluntary Acknowledgement of Paternity (VAP) document, or the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services can enter an Administrative Paternity Order. After parentage is legally established, either parent may be required to pay the other child support. It is important to note that establishing parentage with a VAP or Administrative Paternity Order does not automatically guarantee custody or visitation. Issues of parental responsibility and parenting time are decided by the courts.

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