As time passes, the world changes—and so do social norms. The State of Kansas is no exception to this rule. Between 1950 and 1980, the percentage of children born to unmarried couples in Kansas skyrocketed from 4.5% to 18.4%. By 1994 that number had nearly doubled again, to 32%.
You might be wondering, why does this matter? The answer is that Kansas law that makes it important. Married couples are automatically and legally established as (or “presumed to be”) the parents of any babies they have. But 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,” because the baby’s father isn’t automatically considered a legal father (the mother is legally the mother if she’s given birth to the child). “Establishing paternity” means that the baby’s biological father becomes the father for legal purposes, too.
There are two ways that unmarried couples with a baby can establish paternity: the parents can sign a voluntary acknowledgement of paternity (VAP), or the question of paternity can be adjudicated (decided) by a judge of district court after someone files a paternity lawsuit.
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. The father’s name will then be added to the birth certificate.
The VAP form is usually signed in the hospital, after the baby’s birth, but it can be signed outside the hospital, too. The form is also available in physicians’ offices where newborn children are seen and treated.
If the father doesn’t sign a VAP when the baby is born, his name isn’t added to the birth certificate. If he later decides he wants to establish paternity and have his name added to the birth certificate, he and the mother have to complete the Paternity Consent Form for Birth Registration later. This form can be signed at any time until the child turns 18, but a judge or a hearing officer (sometimes known as a “referee”) also has to sign. The form is available through the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, Office of Vital Statistics. You can contact them with questions at 785-296-1434.
Parents always have the initial right to demand genetic testing to make sure there’s a DNA link between the father and the child. But by signing the VAP, the parents are agreeing that the father is the biological father. Both parents agree to accept the responsibility to financially support their child, including child support and medical support. Both parents also acknowledge that they have custody and visitation rights and that those rights can only be changed by a court. They can choose to enter into a parenting plan if they agree on those matters.
The second way to establish paternity is through the judicial process. A paternity action can be brought to court by the child, the mother, a government official or local prosecutor (if the mother is receiving financial benefits on behalf of the child), or the presumed (alleged) father. The matter is heard in the district court in the county where any of the parties live. If anyone requests genetic testing, the court must order it and everyone must submit to testing.
The parties can settle the case at any time or they can go to trial. If they go to 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 judgment, which means that paternity has been formally established and the father’s name will be added to the birth certificate. The court will also enter an order assessing financial obligations (child, educational, and medical support) and make a decision about custody, visitation (“parenting time”), and residency (where the child will live). Sometimes parents already have a parenting plan in place. When they do, the court will use it unless someone objects and proves that the plan is not in the child’s best interests.
Some of the benefits of establishing paternity include the following:
Children also enjoy a wide variety of benefits when paternity is established:
Kansas Legal Services, which is a non-profit dedicated to helping low-income Kansans with legal problems, has prepared a paternity topic page with links to articles, forms, and statutes.
The official Kansas statutes relating to the establishment of paternity are located here.