When a married couple has a child in Oregon, the husband in the couple is assumed to be the father. The child has the right to receive financial support from the father up until age 18, and the child can legally inherit from the father. This legal relationship between the father and the child is called "paternity."
When a child is born to a woman who isn't married, however, paternity has to be established before the legal rights between the child and father take effect. For example, a father isn't required to pay child support and doesn't have rights to visitation with his child until paternity is legally established. This article explains how paternity is established in Oregon, as well as the legal rights that go along with paternity.
When the parents of a child aren't married, paternity of the child can still be established in two basic ways. First, a father can voluntarily acknowledge the child is his. If the mother agrees, paternity can be established easily. Second, one parent can file a paternity lawsuit asking the court to decide who the child's father is.
A father can acknowledge paternity of his child in Oregon by signing a "Voluntary Acknowledgement of Paternity" form. The mother should also sign the form, as well as a third party who witnesses both signatures. Once this form is filed with the State Registrar of the Center for Health Statistics (link below), paternity has been established.
If both parents sign the form at the health care facility where the baby was born within five days of the birth, staff at the health care facility can witness the signing of the form and take care of filing it as well. If you get married after the child is born, you will still need to sign a voluntary acknowledgment of paternity to establish paternity.
If you're not sure you're the father, you should not sign the acknowledgement form. Signing the form means you agree you are the biological father of the child and you will be held financially responsible for that child's needs. After signing the form, the mother and father each have 60 days to rescind (take back) the acknowledgement. A parent can't take back the acknowledgement after a court orders child support or visitation for the child.
Acknowledgement of paternity can be taken back after 60 days only if there's been fraud, duress, or a material mistake of fact. For example, if you've been tricked or forced into signing the acknowledgement form, you can file a petition to challenge paternity. See an experienced family law attorney if you need to challenge paternity after signing the acknowledgement form.
You also shouldn't sign an acknowledgement of paternity form unless both parents agree on child support, visitation, and how major decisions for the child will be made. If you can't agree with the other parent on all of those issues, you should let a court decide them at the same time it establishes paternity.
To have the court establish paternity, you need to file a "Petition to Establish Paternity" in the circuit court for the county where you live. Any of the following people can file a petition to establish paternity:
If the other parent will not agree to establish paternity and the child is under 18, you may contact DCS to ask for help establishing paternity.
If the mother receives Oregon public assistance the case will automatically get referred to DCS. Otherwise, either parent can ask their local county District Attorney's office for assistance establishing paternity.
Either parent can hire an attorney or file the petition to establish paternity alone. The court may order genetic testing to determine the biological father of the child. If one of the parties still doesn't agree to establish paternity, the court can hold a trial where the judge will decide if paternity has been established. The judge can also decide other issues like child support, custody and visitation.
Oregon encourages parents to establish paternity whether the parents are in a relationship or not. Children deserve to know their parents. Being able to access parents' medical history can even help save a child's life. A child might be eligible to get benefits from both parents, such as Social Security or veterans' benefits. Children can also inherit from both parents after paternity has been established.
There are benefits for parents who establish paternity as well. After paternity has been established, Oregon law says that both parents have equal rights and responsibilities to the child. A legal father has a right to visitation with his child. A legal father can be included in major decisions that need to be made for the child.
Finally, having two parents contribute support can help ease the financial burden on a would-be single parent and increase the child's quality of life.
If you have other questions about establishing paternity in Oregon after reading this article, contact an experienced family law attorney.
Read the full text of the law on paternity in Oregon in the Oregon Revised Statutes, §109.060 through §109.119.
A link to the Oregon Child Support Program, including forms you can use are here.
Reach the Oregon State Registrar of the Center for Health Statistics here.