The public policy of the State of Illinois is to recognize “the right of every child to the physical, mental, emotional and monetary support of his or her parents.” The law provides that “the parent and child relationship, including support obligations, extends equally to every child and to every parent, regardless of the marital status of the parents.”
Even so, unmarried couples have to go the extra mile to make sure that they and their children are protected. 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 four ways to establish paternity in Illinois:
The first way, which also happens to be simplest, is that the parents can choose to sign a VAP form. When you go to the hospital or medical facility to deliver your baby, the medical staff will give you the VAP. Both parents read it and, if they understand it and agree with it, each parent must sign and date it in the presence of a witness who is at least 18 years old. The father’s name will then be added to the birth certificate. If the VAP isn’t completed before the parents leave the hospital, only the mother’s name will be on the birth certificate.
This form is usually signed in the hospital, after the baby’s birth (it can’t be signed before the baby is born), but it can be signed outside the hospital, too. Just complete the VAP later and mail it to the address on the back of the form. Your documents will ultimately make their way to Vital Records, where the father’s name will be added to the birth certificate.
By signing the VAP, the parents are agreeing that the father is the biological father and waiving (giving up) their right to genetic testing. Both parents agree to accept the responsibility to financially support their child, including child support and medical support. Both parents also acknowledge that they understand that the VAP doesn’t give them any rights to custody or visitation—they have to go to court and ask a judge for that. The VAP entitles both parents to notice of any attempts to adopt the child.
The second way that paternity can be established is that Child Support Services can enter an Administrative Paternity Order, which establishes paternity. 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. Any unmarried parent is entitled to help from Child Support Services and can call 1-800-447-4278 or visit their web site to fill out an application. Child Support Services can even order the parents and child to submit to genetic testing to determine whether there is a DNA link between the parents and the child.
The third way to establish paternity is through the judicial process. A paternity action can be brought to court by the child, the mother, a pregnant woman, any government agency that has custody of the child or provides the child with financial support, or the presumed (alleged) father. The matter is heard in circuit court in the county where any of the parties live. The trial has to be before a judge and there won’t be a jury. 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 a final paternity order, which means that paternity has been formally established.
The fourth and final way to establish paternity is simply for the father and mother to marry one another after their baby is born.
Remember that 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 order. But if unmarried parents sign a voluntary Acknowledgment of Paternity, they must go to court and ask the judge to make a 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:
Illinois Child Support Services has a paternity topic page with links, contact information, and more resources about paternity.
Illinois Legal Aid Online, which helps low-income Illinois residents with their legal problems, has a paternity site that contains an FAQ, forms tailored to your specific location, instructions, and articles.
To see what an Illinois VAP looks like, you can use this link from Child Support Services. Remember: this document can only be signed after the baby is born, in front of a witness who is at least 18 years old and isn’t the parent or the child.