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Kevin O'Flaherty

In this article, we explain Iowa Paternity Law and answer questions about:

  • how to establish paternity in Iowa;
  • what is a ‘paternity affidavit’?;
  • how to establish paternity if the father doesn’t agree;
  • why is it important to establish paternity?;
  • what if I established paternity but no longer think I am the biological father?; and
  • what legal rights does a father have without establishing paternity?

How is Paternity Established in Iowa?

When a child is born to a married couple, the husband is automatically considered the legal father, and the rights of the mother and father are clear.  If a child is born to an unmarried couple, there are three ways to establish paternity in the state of Iowa.  The first option is for the couple to fill out a “paternity affidavit” form, which is commonly provided by the hospital in which the child is born.  Another option is to have paternity established via a paternity order issued by the Iowa Department of Human Services (Office of Child Support Recovery Services, or CSRA) or a judge of the circuit court.  The final option is for the couple to get married, but this must occur before the arrival of the baby for paternity to be legally established with no further action required.

What is a “Paternity Affidavit?”

A “paternity affidavit” is a legal document that must be signed by both the mother and the father, stating that both parties agree that the man is the biological and legal father, and his name will be added to the birth certificate.  The form for a “paternity affidavit” can be provided by the hospital where the child was born, the Department of Public Health, the Child Support Recovery Unit (CRSU), or any County Recorder/County Registrar’s Office.  In order to have a valid “paternity affidavit,” one of the following statements must be true:

  • The baby’s mother wasn’t married to another man when she got pregnant, during the pregnancy, or at the time of birth.
  • The baby’s mother was married to someone else during those times, and there is a court order issued by a judge stating the husband is not the father of the baby.

What is a “Paternity Order?”

A “paternity order” is typically issued when an unwed mother applies for financial support through the state of Iowa and is not receiving the needed support to take care of her child from the other parent.  This is when the Child Support Recovery Unit (CRSU) can be of assistance.  Any unmarried parent, regardless of gender, is entitled to help from CRSU.  The organization will order parents and child to submit to genetic testing, free of charge, to determine whether there is a DNA link amongst the parties.

A petition to establish paternity can also be brought to district court.  A hearing will be held during which each side will have the opportunity to present evidence, and a judge will decide if the alleged father is the baby’s biological and legal parent.  If the answer is “yes,” the final order will mean that paternity has been formally established, and the father can add his name to the birth certificate.

Why is it Important to Establish Paternity?

Establishing paternity has several benefits for the father, mother and child.  In the state of Iowa, both the father and mother have legal and financial obligations to pay child support, maintain medical insurance, and pay for educational costs and medical expenses.  These obligations can be difficult to enforce without established paternity.  Also, by establishing paternity, the father gains the right to go to Court and ask a judge to issue an official order that gives him custody and visitation rights.  There are benefits for the child as well, such as having the father’s name on the birth certificate and access to medical histories from both sides of the family.

What if I Established Paternity but No Longer Think I am the Biological Father?

Either party that signs a “paternity affidavit” can rescind or cancel the affidavit by filling out a Rescission of Paternity Affidavit form and submitting it to the Iowa Department of Public Health, Bureau of Vital Records.  The form must be submitted within sixty days on the last notarized signature on the “paternity affidavit” form, or the entry of a court order about the child.  If all conditions are met and the form is filed by the deadline, the previously-entered “paternity affidavit” will be void.  To be clear, this means that the man on the form will no longer be the legal father or listed as the father on the birth certificate.  However, the child’s name on the birth certificate will remain the same, even if the man has successfully disestablished paternity.  The only way to legally change the child’s name is through a court order.  It should also be noted that once a “paternity affidavit” has been withdrawn, another one cannot be filed for the same mother, father and child.  Paternity of the same child can still be established by filing a motion with the court, but the option of a “paternity affidavit” is no longer valid.  You should speak to an attorney with any questions or concerns about how to proceed.

What Legal Rights Does a Father Have Without Establishing Paternity?

The simplest answer is, none.  Without a way of proving that a man is the biological and/or legal father of a child, the mother has sole legal custody over the child until a court order says differently.  You should consult with an attorney if you are an unwed parent seeking to establish paternity to find out more about your rights and determine the right course of action for you

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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