When it comes to the legal rights and responsibilities that are part and parcel of having a baby, married couples in Indiana have it easy. They're automatically determined to be the parents of their children, and they enjoy all the rights and responsibilities that entails.
But unmarried couples don't get the benefit of that automatic protection. They 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.
There are two basic ways that unmarried couples in Indiana can establish paternity: paternity affidavits and adjudication (a decision by a judge). Paternity affidavits are a totally voluntary process, but adjudication is compulsory (involuntary).
The first way, which also happens to be simplest, is that the parents can choose to sign a paternity affidavit. If a putative (alleged) father doesn't want to sign a paternity affidavit, he has to register with the Indiana Putative Father Registry by calling 317-233-7085. Having his name added to the registry ensures that the father will be given notice if someone later wants to adopt the child.
Because the paternity affidavit is totally voluntary, it has to be signed in front of a witness. Staff at the hospital or medical facility where you go to deliver your baby can give you the paternity affidavit and assist you with it. You can sign the affidavit at the hospital up to 72 hours after child's birth; after that, you can sign one at your local health department at any time up until your child is legally emancipated (becomes an independent adult).
Both parents should read the paternity affidavit together and, if they understand it and agree with it, sign and date it. If you don't understand or agree with something, you don't have to sign. You have a right to obtain genetic testing first, to make sure there's a DNA link between you and the child.
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 mother will keep primary physical custody of the child, meaning that the baby will continue to live with her. When it comes to legal custody (the power to make important decisions), the parents can indicate on the paternity affidavit whether they want the mother to have sole legal custody or whether it should be joint (shared by both parents). If the parents want joint legal custody, they will need to provide their local health department with genetic test results proving that the father is the baby's biological father.
The second way that paternity can be established is through the judicial process. A paternity action can be brought to court by the mother, the father, or even the county prosecutor if the child is receiving financial assistance (also known as a IV-D case). The parties can agree to paternity or the court can order genetic testing. They can settle at any time, or the case can go to trial. At the conclusion 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. The judge can also decide who should have custody and how much child support has to be paid.
There are a number of reasons why parents should establish paternity of their child:
Children also enjoy a wide variety of benefits when paternity is established:
The Indiana Department of Child Services (DCS) has prepared a comprehensive fact sheet on the topic of establishing paternity. The sheet is available for download as a PDF in multiple languages on this page, which has additional official information about paternity and DCS services. The page also includes a list of accredited laboratories, with contact information that you can use for genetic testing. This is especially important because in Indiana, genetic test results from labs that aren't accredited cannot be admitted into evidence if you have to go to court.
If you want to take a look at the paternity affidavit, you can view a PDF version at the Indiana Department of Health's forms index. Just scroll down to the "Vital Records/Birth/Death Certificates" category, then check the "Birth" subsection. You'll find the paternity affidavit used in hospitals (state form 44780) and also the paternity affidavits available at local health departments (there are separate versions for children over and under 60 days old). Keep in mind that these forms are watermarked because they're intended for viewing purposes only. Don't try to print them and present them for any official purpose.