This article discusses the rights available to fathers who are not married to their child’s mother, including how to establish paternity in Indiana, and what to expect when petitioning for parenting time. We also discuss the requirements for a legally admissible genetic test.
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.
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 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.
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 establishing 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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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