If you're a single mom or dad, you may be struggling to figure out how the law works to benefit your child and the scope of both parents' rights and responsibilities. For some moms, that may mean identifying the child’s father to get a support order in place. For some dads, this may mean having a court order in place to get parenting time with your child. In either case, the first step is to establish paternity.
This article provides a basic overview of paternity law in Connecticut. If you have questions about establishing paternity, you should contact an experienced family law attorney in your area.
Establishing paternity means determining who a child’s father is. When a married woman gives birth, the law presumes that her husband is the child's father. However, if the mother is unmarried, paternity must be established and can be done so either voluntarily or by court order.
When the mother is unmarried at the time of the child’s birth, the mother and father can agree to sign a "Voluntary Acknowledgment of Paternity” form. When the parents sign this document, they are both acknowledging that the man signing the form is the child's legal father and swearing under oath that the information is true. This acknowledgement becomes final 60 days after it's been signed. After the 60 days elapses, neither parent can revoke his or her acknowledgement.
Once the acknowledgement is entered with the court, a judge can make child-related orders including orders for payment of child support, medical insurance coverage for the child, and orders determining child custody and visitation rights. Either parent or the state office of child support services can request these orders.
If there is no voluntary acknowledgement, either the mother or the man who believes he is the father may proceed to court to establish paternity. Under Connecticut law, any of the following persons or agencies can begin the court process:
If the mother or the department of child social services begins the case, then the family court for the county where the mother or putative father resides will decide the case.
If there is a separate matter to terminate or end the parenting rights over a child, and a man who thinks he is the biological father wants to file for paternity, the case will be held in the county probate court where the child resides.
A case can be started before the child is born, but the final hearing will not be held until after the child’s birth. At the latest, the case must be brought before the child’s 18th birthday.
The judge overseeing a paternity case may also make orders for:
The judge will require that the mother, putative father and child submit to genetic tasting. For the test to be valid, it must show a 99 percent probability that the putative father is the biological father.
If the state has started the paternity case, the judge will order the state to pay for the genetic testing. Otherwise the judge will order one or both parties to pay for the tests.
If a mother is left to support and raise a child on her own, it stands to reason that a child support order would benefit her and her child. Additionally, the alleged father may have health insurance benefits that are available for the child.
Aside from the benefit of having a father’s involvement, a child may also be entitled to government benefits if the dad is disabled or a veteran. The child would also be entitled to inherit from the father’s estate.
If the parents are not on good terms, the alleged father may need court orders for visitation. The father may want joint legal custody with the mother, and he cannot seek these orders without having his paternity established. This means that the father and mother have an equal voice in decisions concerning the child’s health care, education, religious upbringing among other major issues.
The Connecticut Department of Social Services has an innovative public service program directed toward teen age dads. Go to www.ct.gov/dss/site/default.asp. Click on the “support for children” link. Scroll down to the child support services link and click on the “fatherhood initiative” tab. At the same website you can access the department’s list of informative brochures. Click on “publications” link to get to the brochure, “Becoming a teenage father.”
Connecticut Legal Services provides brochures on establishing paternity at the website, http://connlegalservices.org. Go to “legal pamphlets” and click on the “family law” tab. At the “child support” section, you will find two brochures, “establishing paternity, questions and answers for moms” and “establishing paternity, questions and answers for dads.”