Oklahoma celebrates and honors the marriage relationship by, among other things, creating a "presumption of paternity" for husbands when their wives have babies. This means that when a baby is born to a married couple, the husband is automatically deemed to be the legal father. The baby then enjoys certain rights—like inheritance—that wouldn't have been available otherwise. The husband and wife are also automatically given a set of corresponding rights and responsibilities regarding their child.
When it comes to unmarried couples, however, the rules are very different. When an unmarried woman has a baby, there is no "presumption" that the biological father is the legal father. Oklahoma will only recognize the biological father as the legal father if the unmarried couple "establishes paternity." This means that the couple has to clear some legal hurdles to make sure that the state recognizes the child's biological father as the legal father.
Other than marriage, there are two basic methods that unmarried Oklahoma parents take to establish paternity: the parents can sign an "Acknowledgement of Paternity" (AOP), or else the question of the baby's paternity can be adjudicated (decided) by a judge after someone files a paternity lawsuit.
As to the first method, signing the AOP is a simple and totally voluntary process. (By contrast, going to court is an involuntary process because everyone is bound by the judge's decision and there's no element of choice.)
Unmarried couples frequently choose to sign the AOP at the hospital or birthing center. The hospital has the necessary forms and staff available to assist you with the paperwork.
The AOP can only be signed in the presence of a witness (the parents can't be witnesses for each other) and the hospital can supply a witness when the parents are ready to sign. The hospital will also make sure the AOP is properly filed, and everything will be done free of charge.
But if you're not ready, you don't have to sign the AOP at the hospital. You can sign later if that's what you want—if you don't sign at the hospital, you can sign at the Oklahoma State Department of Health, Division of Vital Records, any county health department, or any local child support office.
By signing the AOP, the parents are agreeing that the father is the biological and legal father of the baby and that his name should be added to the birth certificate. They agree to waive (give up) their right to genetic testing. They also agree that depending on the circumstances, the father may have to pay child support and provide health insurance, and that the child has the right to inherit from the father.
When an unmarried Oklahoma woman gives birth, the law awards her sole custody of the child until a judge issues an order to the contrary. So the parents have to work these matters out for themselves, and if they can't, they have to go to court and ask a judge to make the decision for them. If both parents don't understand and agree to all these things, they shouldn't sign the AOP.
If you have any doubts about whether a child is yours, don't sign the AOP because once it's signed, it's a legally binding document that's very hard to overturn. Instead, pursue your right to genetic testing so you can find out if there's a DNA link between you and the child.
The second way to establish paternity is by filing a paternity lawsuit, which can be brought to court by either of the parents or a government lawyer for Oklahoma Child Support Services (OCSS). OCSS gets involved when the mother or child received financial assistance through the State of Oklahoma. OCSS is interested in paternity cases because its mission is to make sure that biological parents are providing financial support for their children, but courts can't order child support unless and until paternity is established.
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. The judge may order genetic testing if it hasn't already been performed.
In Oklahoma, genetic testing is performed by a buccal swab, which means a soft swab is rubbed on the inside of the mouth instead of taking blood with a needle. If the alleged father turns out to be the biological father, the judge will order him will to repay OCSS for the cost of the testing.
Ultimately, the judge will issue a final paternity order, which means that paternity has been formally established. This can only happen if the genetic testing results showed a 99% or greater probability of paternity. The court can then also enter an order assessing financial obligations (child and medical support) and make decisions about visitation and custody - where the child will live.
There are a number of reasons why parents should always establish paternity of their child, regardless of whether they live together or have a loving relationship:
Children also enjoy a wide variety of benefits when paternity is established:
You should speak with an experienced family law attorney in your area if you have questions about paternity.
OKLaw.org is a website founded by nonprofits committed to helping low-income Oklahomans resolve their legal problems. Their website has an extensive paternity law section that includes court forms, FAQs, AOP processes, instructions for getting a birth certificate, and a host of other information.
The Oklahoma Department of Human Services also has a valuable web presence with information on the paternity acknowledgement process and both general collections of paternity facts and FAQs tailored separately to mothers and fathers. Human Services has also put all its hospital training materials for AOPs online, and they are worth reading through because they contain highly specific information that you might not find elsewhere. For instance, the materials explain that if anyone is pressuring you to sign an AOP at the hospital, hospital staff have the right to clear the room so you can make your own, independent decision.
Finally, if you'd like to see an example of an AOP, click here. If you'd like to see a form you can use to add a father's name to an adult child's birth certificate, with the consent everyone involved, click here. Both documents will open as PDFs.