Overview of Paternity in Iowa
When a married couple has a baby in Iowa, everyone's legal rights are clear - the husband is automatically considered the baby's father, and the couple doesn't have to take any further action.
But when an unmarried Iowa couple has a baby, the picture becomes more fuzzy. There are no automatic protections, so unmarried couples have to take extra legal steps to protect themselves and their child. The process begins with "establishing paternity," which is the legal method of ensuring that the baby’s biological father becomes the legal father, too.
This article provides an overview of paternity - if you need help establishing paternity in Iowa, you should contact an experienced family law attorney in your area.
Establishing Paternity in Iowa
There are three ways to establish paternity in Iowa: the paternity affidavit form, a paternity order issued by the Iowa Department of Human Services (Office of Child Support Recovery Services, or CSRA) or a judge of district court, and the marriage of the couple.
A Paternity Affidavit
The first way, which also happens to be simplest, is that the parents can choose to sign a paternity affidavit. Signing the affidavit is an entirely voluntary process.
An affidavit is a sworn statement, so each parent will have to sign in the presence of a notary public. Iowa doesn't charge any fees for filing a paternity affidavit. Staff at the hospital or medical facility where you go to deliver your baby can give you the paternity affidavit and assist you with witnesses. If you don't want to sign the affidavit at the hospital, you can also contact your local CRSU or County Recorder's office to get a copy later. In the meantime, you can view a copy of the affidavit here. Keep in mind that this is only a sample, and it's watermarked accordingly. Don't try to print it and use it for any official purpose.
Both parents should read the paternity affidavit together and, if they understand it and agree with it, each parent must sign and date it in the presence of a notary public. The hospital or medical center will make sure that the paperwork is returned to the Iowa Department of Public Health for filing.
Parents can only sign the paternity affidavit if one of the following statements is true:
- The baby's mother wasn't married to another man when she got pregnant, during the pregnancy, or at the time of the birth.
- If the baby's mother was married to someone else during those times, there is a court order issued by a judge which says that the husband isn't the father of the baby.
By signing the paternity affidavit, the parents are agreeing that the father is the biological father and legal father, and his name will be added to the birth certificate. Both parents agree to accept the responsibility to financially support their child, including child support and medical support. The legal father doesn't get any visitation or custody rights just because he signed a paternity affidavit, but signing does give him the right to go to court and ask a judge for those rights.
A Paternity Order
The second way that paternity can be established is that the CRSU can enter a paternity order. CRSU usually gets involved when a parent applies for financial aid through the State of Iowa, such as the Family Investment Program (FIP). This commonly happens because the parent isn't getting financial support for the child from the other parent. That's why CRSU is so interested in paternity cases—it has to make sure that children are being financially supported by their biological and legal parents.
Any unmarried parent, regardless of gender, is entitled to help from CRSU. CRSU will order the parents and child to submit to genetic testing, at no charge, to determine whether there is a DNA link between the parents and the child. If you hear from the CRSU, don't ignore them. Contact an attorney or respond immediately so you don't forfeit any of your rights.
Another way to get an order of paternity is through the judicial process. A paternity action can be brought to district court. At the end of the trial, the judge will decide whether the alleged father is the baby’s legal and biological father. If the answer is “yes,” the court will issue a final paternity order, which means that paternity has been formally established and the father's name will be added to the baby's birth certificate.
The final way to establish paternity is simply for the father and mother to marry one another before the baby arrives.
Why Should Either Parent Establish Paternity?
There are a number of reasons why parents should establish paternity of their child:
- If the father and mother live together, child support is unlikely to be an issue. But if they don’t, the father and mother may have financial obligations to pay child support, maintain health insurance, and pay medical expenses and educational costs. They can help each other financially.
- The parents can work together to make decisions that are best for their child.
- The father will gain the right to go to court and ask a judge to issue an official order that gives him custody and visitation.
Children also enjoy a wide variety of benefits when paternity is established:
- Your child’s birth certificate will include both parents’ names.
- Your child is guaranteed the ability to access medical histories from both sides of the family.
- A child with a legal father can qualify, through the father, for benefits like Social Security, medical insurance, and other state, federal, and inheritance benefits.
The Iowa Department of Human Services has prepared a brochure explaining paternity, including nuances in the process (such as if a father wants to rescind, or take back, his signature on the paternity affidavit).
Iowa Legal Aid, which is committed to helping low-income Iowans, has prepared an extensive pamphlet which explains paternity and what happens when the administrative CRSU process is initiated. IowaLegalAid.org has also prepared topic pages on paternity and Iowa law and paternity and child support notices.