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Kevin O'Flaherty

Diving into the complexities of paternity and parenting rights in Indiana, this enlightening article sheds light on the essential steps and legal avenues available for unmarried fathers aiming to establish a bond with their children. From the crucial initial step of establishing paternity via an Affidavit or a court order, to navigating the intricacies of parenting time and the child's welfare, the article underscores the importance of legal aid and the Putative Father Registry in fortifying a father's rights. It meticulously outlines how paternity enables unmarried fathers not only to be recognized on the birth certificate but also to actively contribute to their child’s upbringing and secure their welfare, always with the child's best interests at heart.

Key Takeaways

  • In Indiana, an unmarried father can establish paternity by signing a Paternity Affidavit within 72 hours of birth or through a court order afterward.
  • Paternity allows an unmarried father to seek parenting time, be listed on the birth certificate, contribute to upbringing, and ensure child welfare.
  • Indiana courts consider the child’s best interests for custody, with unmarried fathers enhancing their rights via legal aid and registering with the Putative Father Registry.

How to Establish Paternity in Indiana

The establishment of paternity is key for unmarried fathers to have custody and parenting rights in Indiana. For married couples, Indiana law presumes the husband is the father if their wife gives birth either while the couple is married or within 300 days of the end of their marriage. For fathers who are not married to the mother of their child, Indiana allows parents to establish paternity in one of two ways: by Paternity Affidavit or by Court Order. 

A. Establishing Paternity by Affidavit in Indiana

To establish paternity in Indiana by affidavit, both the unmarried father and mother must sign a paternity affidavit declaring they are the parents of the child. The affidavit is a legal document provided by the State of Indiana. It can either be signed and submitted at the hospital within 72 hours of the child’s birth, or at the local health department any time after the child’s birth until the child is emancipated (usually on their 18th birthday) as long as no other father is listed on the child’s birth certificate. 

Signing the affidavit is a voluntary act accepting the legal rights and responsibilities of both the mother and father of the child. Either parent may refuse to sign or may wish to have a paternity test done before signing. Once the parties are sure of the child’s parentage, they can agree to sign the form.

B. Establishing Paternity by Court Order in Indiana

Indiana fathers may also seek to establish paternity by court order. Either the father or mother may file a court action to determine paternity of a child. (A local prosecutor may also file a paternity action to establish child support responsibilities for a child.) The parties may agree to establish paternity voluntarily in court, or any party may request an order for genetic testing. The court may also hear evidence to determine whether paternity should be established, order a legally admissible genetic test, and use the DNA test results as evidence to determine paternity. 

C. Genetic Testing Requirements in Indiana

Indiana requires paternity tests to be completed at any state-approved laboratory using a legally admissible documentation process to ensure accurate results. At-home paternity tests do not meet this requirement. Your local child support bureau can also provide a list of approved testing laboratories. Be sure to check to make sure any test you use is admissible in court for establishing paternity.

What Rights Does the Father Have Once Paternity is Established?

In addition to the father’s name being added to the child’s birth certificate, an unmarried father may petition for parenting time under the Indiana Parenting Time Guidelines. The father’s last name can also be given to the child, who will otherwise automatically have the mother’s last name. The child can also receive health and life insurance, social security and veteran’s administration benefits through the father. 

How is Parenting Time and Responsibility Determined for Unwed Fathers?

If unmarried parents sign the Paternity Affidavit form at the hospital, a section of the form allows them to agree to joint legal custody of the child. If they do not agree to joint legal custody, the mother will automatically have sole legal custody (but parents can still use the form to establish paternity). Once paternity is established, a noncustodial father can petition for custody or parenting time rights and will be subject to a child support order. 

Indiana Parenting Time Guidelines

Indiana law presumes a healthy relationship with both parents is in the best interest of the child. Indiana Parenting Time Guidelines are used to schedule and confirm each parent’s rights and responsibilities during time with their child. Once paternity is established, these guidelines apply to all parents, married or unmarried

Although an unmarried mother may establish an informal parenting time arrangement with the child’s father, unmarried fathers will have to petition for parenting time and show intent to establish and maintain a relationship with the child to have enforceable rights. Several factors may be considered, including past primary caretaker of the child, financial situation of both parents, and any negative behavior by either parent such as criminal history, drug abuse and domestic violence. The court’s decision will be based on the best interest of the child.

In summary, while paternity and parenting rights are assumed for married fathers absent other evidence, unmarried fathers must establish paternity before they can claim any rights to their child. If the unmarried mother does not sign an agreement for joint custody when the child is born the father will need to petition the court to get a legally enforceable allocation of parental rights and responsibilities. Otherwise, the father’s opportunity to see the child will depend entirely on the mother’s wishes

Putative Father Registry in Indiana

Indiana maintains a registry for men who believe they may have fathered a child but have not established paternity. This registry requires the state to notify a putative father when a child is put up for adoption. The Indiana Putative Father Registration form also allows a putative father to designate someone else as an agent if they cannot be notified at their own address. The form must be filed within 30 days of the birth of the child or any time before an adoption petition is filed.

Frequently Asked Questions

Do I have a right to know who my ex brings around my child?

Unless a court order specifies otherwise, you have no control over whom your former partner introduces to your child. Provided that the individual presents no threat to safety, it’s not advisable to impede the child’s visitation with the other parent.

Do unmarried fathers have parental rights in Indiana?

In Indiana, once a court confirms paternity, unmarried fathers possess parental rights which enable them to pursue orders for custody and visitation just as married couples can.

What is the difference between legal and physical custody?

Physical custody pertains to the determination of the child’s primary living situation, indicating where the child will mainly reside. On the other hand, legal custody is concerned with granting a parent or guardian the authority to make significant decisions on behalf of the child.

Thus, while physical custody revolves around where a child lives, legal custody focuses on who has responsibility for critical choices in their life.

What is the Putative Father Registry?

In Indiana, the Putative Father Registry is designed to ascertain both the identity and whereabouts of a presumptive father when there are adoption proceedings concerning his child. This system plays an essential role in making sure that the father receives notification about these proceedings.

How can an attorney assist an unmarried father?

A lawyer can assist a father who is not married by initiating a paternity case or submitting an alteration request in a current case to affirm paternity. Doing so will grant legal endorsement and support for the unmarried father’s role (response given on November 24, 2021).

Disclaimer: The information provided on this blog is intended for general informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice on any subject matter. This information is not intended to create, and receipt or viewing does not constitute an attorney-client relationship. Each individual's legal needs are unique, and these materials may not be applicable to your legal situation. Always seek the advice of a competent attorney with any questions you may have regarding a legal issue. Do not disregard professional legal advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this blog.


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