Paternity in Arkansas

How do you establish paternity and why is it important for your child in Arkansas?

For some men, becoming a dad is a momentous occasion, full of joy and anticipation. There are situations, however, when dad doesn’t know he’s a dad until he receives notice from a court that he has been named in a paternity action.

This article provides an overview of the paternity laws in Arkansas. If you have specific questions or need help with your own paternity case, you should contact an experienced family law attorney in your area.

What is Paternity?

Paternity is the status of being a father. Establishing paternity means that a court has ruled as to who is a child’s biological father.

How is Paternity Established?

The simplest way to establish paternity in Arkansas is through a voluntary acknowledgement. If you and your child's mother are not married, but you both agree that you are father, Arkansas law allows fathers to sign a voluntary acknowledgement of paternity. Once the acknowledgement is submitted and approved by a judge, you will be considered the child's father, and the court can grant orders for visitation and child support.

Alternatively, if the mother and father don't agree who the child's father is, a court action to establish paternity can be brought. Under Arkansas law, a paternity action can be started by:

  • the child’s mother
  • the man who believes he is the father (also known as the “putative father”)
  • the grandparent or parent of the deceased putative father
  • the state Office of Child Support Enforcement

When a paternity case is initiated, the judge will order genetic tests on the mother, child and the putative father. To be considered valid in Arkansas, the test result must show that there is at least 95 percent likelihood that the putative father is the biological father.

Arkansas law states that a paternity action can be started anytime after the child’s birth up to the child’s death. This presumes that the matter can be initiated after the child becomes an adult.

What are the Benefits or Drawbacks to Establishing Paternity?

When paternity is determined, the Arkansas courts can order child support, custody and visitation. However, when a child is born out of wedlock, the mother has legal custody. Even if it’s proven that the putative father is the biological father, the law does not automatically grant the bio dad custody or visitation rights. The dad has to prove that:

  • he is a fit parent
  • he has already provided financial support for the child, and
  • it is in the child’s best interest for the biological father to have custody of the child or visitation with the child.

From the mother’s position, establishing paternity may provide financial assistance through a child support order. For a father who has proven that he will be a fit parent, he may enjoy a relationship with his child. 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.

For the man who is unable or unwilling to pay child support, having a paternity order forced on him could be unwelcome. The judge can order a reluctant father to pay the costs of the pregnancy, child birth, and the mother’s attorney’s fees as well. If the dad does not pay these court ordered expenses, he could be jailed.

If the Office of Child Support Enforcement has started the case, the agency may ask the father to reimburse the agency for welfare and other benefits paid out on the child’s behalf.

If the court finds that the putative father is not the biological dad, it has the power to order the mother, who initiated the case, to pay the putative father’s attorney’s fees and costs.

Arkansas law has an interesting provision in the case of rape that results in the child’s conception. If the putative father is found guilty of the rape of the mother, which resulted in the child’s conception, the father’s parental rights are terminated upon the conviction. However, the father is still obligated to pay child support and the child still has the right to inherit from the father’s estate.

Resources

The Arkansas Office of Child Support Enforcement has several on-line brochures which further explain parental rights and paternity issues. Go to www.dfa.arkansas.gov. Click on the “forms and publications” link and go to the brochures entitled “The Noncustodial Parents Handbook” and the “Voluntary Paternity Acknowledgement” brochure.

The Arkansas Legal Services Partnership has on-line information. Go to the website, www.arlegalservices.org. Click on the "Family Law" link for further information on paternity.

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