In 2018, 39% of the babies born in the state of Illinois were born to unwed parents.  When a child is born to unwed parents, specific legal steps must be taken to ensure that each parent’s rights and responsibilities regarding the child are allocated properly. This is different from when a child is born to married parents, as the Illinois law has a presumption that each parent will equally contribute. Considering the rising numbers of unmarried parents, it is important to understand your parental rights as an unmarried parent under Illinois law.
First, when a child is born to unmarried parents, the parents must legally establish the child’s paternity. In the state of Illinois, until and unless parentage is established for the father, the mother is typically assumed to be the sole legal parent of the child. Until the biological father of a child has established paternity, he possesses no rights to see the child or act as a parent. Paternity can be established both jointly or sought unilaterally. Parents can jointly establish paternity at the birth of a child if each parent signs a Voluntary Acknowledgement of Paternity, or VAP. It is important to understand that signing a VAP does not fully establish a father’s right to be included in the allocation of parental responsibility or parenting time. A VAP simply serves as a basis for child support to be initiated and is a good step to take for a father wanting to have parental responsibilities. A father seeking to be allocated parenting time and responsibility must file for these with a court. If the father and the mother agree, they can enter into a joint parenting agreement with the court, allowing the father to have parental rights and responsibilities. Whether you expect to be able to reach an agreement or not, it is important to file for these allocations in court as soon as possible to ensure each parent is allocated time and responsibility to facilitate the best interest of the child.
If there is a dispute as to paternity, either parent may file a petition to establish paternity. Mothers must file a petition to establish paternity to be entitled to received support contributions from the child’s father. If a potential father fails to respond to the mother’s petition, the Court can decide the father is the parent without DNA testing or any participation by the father. The father would then be obligated to provide financial support for the child, but would have no rights to parenting time or responsibilities unless later ordered. Fathers may also petition the court for legal recognition as a child’s parent. If a mother fails to respond to the father’s petition, the court can enter a default order regarding the allocation of parenting time and responsibilities and support.
When seeking to establish paternity, each party provides information regarding the couple’s relationship at the point of conception. If necessary, Illinois family courts are empowered to order DNA testing for the child and the father. Once paternity is established, the parents must then take additional administrative steps to add the father to the child’s birth certificate, and the father is entitled to seek allocation of parental rights.
When deciding how to allocate parental rights and responsibilities, courts use the same factors for unmarried parents as married parents to determine what would be in the best interests of the child. The following factors are just some of the things taken into consideration when allocating parenting time and responsibilities:
- The wishes of each parent seeking parenting time
- The child’s needs
- The mental and physical health of all individuals involved
- The willingness and ability of each parent to place the needs of the child ahead of his or her own needs
- The willingness and ability of each parent to facilitate and encourage a close and continuing relationship between the other parent and the child
Regardless of whether the parents are married when a child is born, the most important thing is that any decision made reflects what is in the best interest of the child. Illinois courts review all cases on an individual basis to ensure the child’s best interest are served.
If you have questions about your parental rights, or any other parenting time matter, contact Sherer Law Offices for more information and to discuss your specific situation.
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