In times gone by, the law treated children born out of wedlock unfavorably. Most notably, the law denied these children the right to inherit their parents’ property. The government usually did not pursue the absent parents for child support.
The law has changed greatly. There is no distinction between legitimate or illegitimate children with regard to inheritance rights. While children born out of wedlock are entitled to be supported the same as children from a divorce, the law provides a different route to get that support. The first step to getting child support is to establish paternity.
This article will outline how the law in Alaska deals with paternity. If you have questions, you should contact an experienced family law attorney for help.
Paternity is the status of being a father. Establishing paternity means that a court of law or a governmental agency has made an order stating who the child’s father is.
There are two ways to establish paternity in Alaska. The first is by a simple acknowledgement. When both parents agree on who the father is, the father can sign a "Voluntary Acknowledgement of Paternity" form. The law requires hospitals to make this information available to unmarried parents upon the birth of the child. Once this form is signed, the father's name will be added to the child's birth certificate and his paternity will be officially established.
The second way to establish paternity is through a paternity lawsuit or action. When the child's mother and alleged father do not agree on paternity, then a paternity action may be brought by any of the following:
A paternity case can be initiated in the court or through a government agency that provides benefits for the child. Both a court ruling and an agency ruling are equally valid. Both the court and the agency have the authority to compel the mother, father and child to participate in genetic testing. If the agency orders the testing, the agency will pay for the testing up front and then seek reimbursement for the testing from the putative father, if the tests prove he is the biological father.
The court prefers to obtain genetic testing results to ascertain paternity. If for some reason the results are not available or not conclusive, the court will consider other evidence to determine paternity. For example, the court could hear evidence as to the nature of the relationship between the child and the putative father or how the father has treated the child in the community.
When the putative father is convicted of a rape, the agency does not have the authority to pursue establishing paternity unless the mother is agreeable and is fully competent to make that decision.
When paternity is determined, the Alaskan courts can order child support, health insurance coverage, custody and visitation. Obviously, for the person who is raising the child, be it the child’s mother or a custodian, it is helpful to get financial support for the child.
For a father who may want to be part of the child’s life, the court can order visitation as well as rule on legal custody, which means the parent’s right to make major life decisions on the child’s behalf. These include such matters as medical treatment, educational issues, religious upbringing and the like.
The child may benefit from having a dad in his or her life as well. The child may also realize an inheritance upon the bio dad’s death. If the dad is disabled and collecting social security benefits, the child may also be eligible for benefits as the disabled dad’s dependent.
The Alaska Department of Child Support Services offers free assistance to parents who want to establish paternity and receive child support. The website, www.childsupport.alaska.gov, has a link under “available services” to explain their program. The website also has an FAQ section that details paternity law in the state.
The Alaska Legal Services Corporation, www.alsc-law.org, provides legal services for income-eligible parents who need help in paternity and other family law matters.