In the State of Idaho, married couples who have a baby together are automatically considered to be the legal and biological parents of that baby. The parents—and their child—will enjoy the financial and custodial benefits of parenthood without having to take any further actions or go to court.
When an unmarried couple has a baby together, though, things suddenly get a lot more complicated. Their rights and responsibilities as parents aren't automatically defined. They have to venture into the legal system to protect themselves and their child, and to make sure that the baby's biological father is determined to be the "legal father" in the eyes of the court. If they fail to follow up and take action to protect themselves, they won't enjoy important legal protections.
For unmarried couples, the legal process begins with "establishing paternity." Establishing paternity means that the baby's biological father becomes the legal father, too.
There are two basic ways to establish paternity in Idaho.
The first way, which also happens to be simplest, is that the parents can sign an Acknowledgement of Paternity form. This is a strictly voluntary decision, and it can only be used if the mother was unmarried at the time of conception and birth. (In the rare case that a mother was married at conception or between conception and birth, there is a special section on the form to be signed by the mother's legal husband, agreeing that he is not the biological father of the child and has no rights or responsibilities to the child.)
This form is usually signed in the hospital, after the baby's birth. Both parents should read the form together and make sure they understand it. By signing, they are agreeing that the father is the biological father and indicating that no genetic testing is needed. Then they should both sign it in the presence of a hospital staff member. The hospital will take a copy of the form and the birth certificate and make sure they're filed with Vital Statistics, at no charge to the parents. Both parents' names will be included on the birth certificate.
If you didn't sign the voluntary Acknowledgment of Paternity form while your baby was in the hospital, the baby will leave the hospital with only the mother's name on the birth certificate. You can still get the form from the Vital Statistics or Child Support Services Office where you live and complete the process later. Vital Records will change the birth certificate to include both parents' names and issue you a certified copy. There will be a nominal charge for the certified copy and for revising the birth certificate.
It's important to know that the Voluntary Establishment of Paternity imposes new financial responsibilities upon the legal father. For example, the father may have to pay child support or medical and educational expenses if he doesn't live with the child.
The second way that paternity can be established is that a parent or a government official (typically from the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare's Child Support Services program, which can help you establish paternity) can file a paternity action with the court. The reason that Child Support Services is so interested in paternity cases because it needs to make sure that children are financially supported by their biological and legal parents.
The plaintiff (the party filing the paternity case) must serve and file a Verified Complaint for Paternity. The Verified Complaint has to allege that the defendant (the father) is the legal and biological father of the child. The matter is then placed in the hands of a judge to decide. Idaho does not allow jury trials in paternity matters, so the trial, if there is one, will be held in front of a judge alone.
Judges hearing paternity matters have broad powers. They can issue arrest warrants if a defendant is evading service of the Verified Complaint or fails to appear. They can also order the parents and child to undergo genetic testing, and make a wide variety of decisions about what kinds of testimony and evidence to admit into the formal record. Judges can also appoint expert witnesses and arrange for them to be compensated appropriately.
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 an "Order of Filiation," which means that paternity has been formally established.
Regardless of whether a father has decided to use a Voluntary Acknowledgment or a paternity lawsuit, he should register with Vital Records and indicate the commencement of paternity proceedings. This will help to protect his rights. The registration is a formal notice to the State that the father intends to pursue or claim his paternity rights. The State of Idaho will then be obligated to inform the father if someone wants to adopt the child.
Also, only the courts have the power to decide custody and visitation. If a paternity case was heard in court, the judge will decide those issues as part of the overall filiation order. But if unmarried parents sign a voluntary Acknowledgment of Paternity, they must go to court and ask the judge to make a separate decision about custody and visitation.
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 Idaho Department of Health and Welfare, Vital Records, has an information sheet and registration notice to enable fathers to claim their paternal rights. There is a small fee associated with the registration.
Vital Records also has a sample Acknowledgement of Paternity Affidavit form online. You can read the form over to get an idea of what to expect, but it is watermarked as a sample and you cannot sign or file it. The real form is green in color and must be obtained from a hospital or medical center, Vital Records, or Child Support Services. Remember: both parents must sign.
Child Support Services has two separate paternity topic pages dedicated to establishing paternity. The website also contains contact information for more help.