Whether it’s by choice or by chance, parenthood is a life changing event. Before having children, most of us only worried about our own needs. Once a baby arrives, the parent’s focus is on the child’s needs. What if the parent is a single mom? How does she get the child’s father to help? This article provides an overview of how to establish paternity in Colorado. If you have questions after reading this article, you should contact an experienced family law attorney for help.
"Paternity" refers to the status of being the legal father of a child. Paternity is usually only an issue when a child's parents are not married to one another. If the parents are married, the law assumes that the child’s father is the mother’s husband. If that is not the case, or if the parents aren't married, paternity will need to be established.
There are two ways to establish paternity. The first is voluntarily, where the parents both agree who the father is. The second way to establish paternity is through a court action, after which a judge will determine who the child's father is and what his rights and responsibilities are.
If both parents agree who the father is, Colorado law allows them to sign a "Voluntary Acknowledgement of Paternity" form, which establishes the alleged father as the legal father of the child. After this VAP form has been signed, the father's name can be added to the child's birth certificate. Once 60 days has passed since the signing of the acknowledgement, neither parent can revoke or rescind his or her acknowledgement without a court action.
If the parents don't agree on paternity, someone will need to bring a court action in order to establish it. Under Colorado law, any of the following persons or agencies may start the court process:
Colorado courts have a district court system with one district court covering several counties. The district court has the authority to decide paternity cases. The case should be started in the district court for the county where the child or putative father reside or where public benefits are being paid on the child’s behalf. If either the child or putative father resides in Denver County, the case should be filed in the Denver Juvenile Court.
Generally, a case can be started after the child’s birth but before the child’s 18th birthday. However if the child is bringing the case, he or she has until his or her 21st birthday to do so.
Regardless of whether the parents signed a voluntary acknowledgement or there are genetic tests that have identified the bio dad, the judge has the authority to issue paternity orders and additional orders including for:
Once paternity is established, the child's father becomes responsible for child support. For a single mother on welfare, receiving child support would certainly be a welcome benefit and the child will benefit from additional financial assistance as well as health insurance benefits, if the father has such insurance available. Additionally, if the father is a veteran and/or eligible for disability benefits, the child may be eligible as the father’s dependant.
Many men are becoming aware of the importance of a father in a child’s life. If the parents are not on good terms, the father may need court orders for visitation. Once his paternity has been established, the child's father has the right to seek custody and/or visitation and may even request joint legal custody with the mother. This means that the father and mother would have equal say in decisions concerning the child’s welfare, such as health care, education, and religious upbringing.
The Colorado Department of Human Services, Office of Child Support Enforcement can help with a paternity and child support matter. Go to the website at https://childsupport.state.co.us. Click on the “Parents” link for more info.
Colorado Legal Services sponsors a self help website at www.coloradolegalservices.org. Click on the “Public Resources” tab and go to the “Legal Resources” section for more information.
The Colorado Judicial Branch also offers instruction and on line, fill-in forms. Go to www.courts.state.co.us/Index.cfm. From the homepage, click on the “Forms” link. Go to the tab, “Divorce, family matters, civil unions.” Scroll down the menu on the left side of the page to the two links, “Disclaiming Paternity” and “Establishing Paternity.”