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Why unwed parents are advised to establish paternity

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, during 2014, more than 40 percent of U.S. babies were born to unwed mothers. In terms of child custody, unwed mothers are automatically granted 100 percent legal and physical custody rights of a child. This is true even in cases where a baby's biological father is present and involved in a child's life. In order to establish and preserve parental rights, it's imperative that unwed fathers take steps to establish paternity.

In New York State, paternity can be established either voluntarily, by both parents signing an Acknowledgment of Paternity, or by filing a petition to request that the courts determine paternity. In order to further the best interests of a child, it's important that unwed parents take steps to establish paternity.

Establishing paternity means that a child is afforded the opportunity to know and form a relationship with his or her biological father. In addition to the emotional benefits related to establishing paternity, a child may also be able to claim financial benefits from a father's Social Security, veterans, medical or life insurance benefits.

For an unwed father, establishing paternity establishes one's legal parental rights. This means that once paternity is established, a father can take steps to petition the courts for visitation or shared custody rights. For an unwed mother, paternity must be established before any action can be taken with regard to petitioning the court for child support payments.

Unwed parents are always advised to take steps to establish paternity as soon as possible after a child is born. Even in cases where parents are initially on good terms, relationships can change and, if paternity wasn't established, a father may be kept from seeing or spending time with a child.

Source: New York State Child Support, "Paternity Establishment," April 4, 2016

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