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Kevin O'Flaherty

The purpose of this article is to summarize Illinois laws relating to paternity.  We will begin by discussing the different types of paternity cases that exist in Illinois, and continue by explaining the procedure and burden of proof in paternity suits.  We will conclude by talking about the child support and child custody ramifications of paternity cases. 

Causes of Action Related to Paternity in Illinois

There are several causes of action in Illinois related to paternity, including:

  • Establishing paternity by consent of the parents;
  • Contested paternity suits; and 
  • Suits to establish the non-existence of a father-child relationship. 

‍All of these causes of action are governed by the  Illinois Parentage Act of 1984 (750 ILCS 45/1, et seq.), which deals with issues revolving around children born out of wedlock. 

Establishing Paternity By Consent at Birth in Illinois

Illinois provides that certain forms must be presented to non-married parents at the hospital upon the birth of a child, which allow the parents to facilitate establishing paternity by mutual consent.  These forms include:

  • An agreed order to establish paternity by consent, and reserve issues of child support until a later date; and
  • A verified petition to declare paternity.

‍If the parents are in agreement regarding paternity, they can deliver these forms to the clerk of court, whereupon the judge will enter the agreed order establishing paternity.  

‍If there is a presumed father other than the father signing these forms, the parents must obtain his signature as well, or submit an affidavit of the mother stating that she has complied with all required notice provisions of the Illinois Parentage Act. 

Illinois Contested Paternity Suits Explained

‍A paternity suit to establish the existence of a father-child relationship can be filed by the mother, the child, anyone claiming to be the child's father, any person or agency with custody of the child,  or any person or agency providing financial assistance to the child.  

‍A suit to declare the non-existence of a father-child relationship may only be filed by the child's natural mother, the "presumed" father of the child (described below), or the child. 

‍​These actions can be filed while the mother is still pregnant.  Depositions can be taken and blood tests ordered before the child is born, but the rest of the proceedings will be delayed until the birth of the child.  

‍The child will be represented by his or her legal guardian.  In some situations, the court may appoint an attorney, called a guardian ad litem, for the purpose of representing the child's interests.  

‍The paternity case is initiated by the petitioning parent filing a petition to determine paternity and serving the responding parent with a summons.  Suit may be filed in the circuit court of any county where any party resides. 

What is the Statute of Limitations For Illinois Paternity Cases?

Paternity suits to establish the existence of the father-child relationship may be filed until the child turns 20 years old.  Actions to declare the non-existence of a parent-child relationship must be filed within two years after the father obtains knowledge of the relevant facts.

Notice in Illinois Paternity Cases

If the person that the petition alleges to be the father is not the statutorily "presumed" father, the "presumed father must be served with certain notices required by the Illinois Code of Civil Procedure and the Illinois Supreme Court Rules.  

The Presumed Father in Illinois Paternity

The Illinois Parentage Act provides that a man is the "presumed" father of the child if any of the following are true:

  • He is married to the mother, or in a civil union or substantially similar relationship when the child is born; 
  • He was married or in a civil union with the mother, but the marriage was terminated within 300 days prior to the birth of the child; 
  • The child was born during or within 300 days of an invalid marriage or civil union into which the he and the mother entered in apparent compliance with the law; 
  • He married or entered into a civil union with the mother after the child's birth, and he is listed as the child's father on the child's birth certificate

Proving Paternity in Illinois

Presumptions of Paternity Explained

The petitioner in a paternity action bears the burden of proving paternity or absence of paternity by a preponderance of the evidence, meaning that the allegations in the petition are more likely than not to be true.  

‍When there is a "presumed father," the presumption must be rebutted by clear and convincing evidence, a higher standard of proof than preponderance of the evidence.  

Clear and convincing evidence is also required if paternity is sought after the death of a parent in order to determine heirship. 

‍A presumption of paternity arising from a voluntary acknowledgment of paternity becomes conclusive if the acknowledgment is not rescinded either within 60 days from signing the voluntary acknowledgement or the date that the paternity suit is initiated, whichever occurs first.  If the presumption becomes conclusive, paternity can only be challenged by the presumed father in the case of fraud, duress, or a mistake of material fact. 

DNA Tests in Illinois Paternity Cases

The court or any party to a paternity action may request DNA testing.  If the party from whom DNA testing is requested refuses to submit to the test, the court will likely decide the case against them.

‍The court will appoint an experienced to perform the DNA test, but each party has the option to hire an independent experienced in addition to the court-appointed experienced to perform tests or to testify regarding the court-appointed experienced's credentials.  If the experienceds agree that the alleged father is not the natural father the case will be dismissed.  If the experienceds disagree, the court will weigh the experienceds' separate testimony along with other evidence.  

If the tests do not exclude the father from paternity, the weight of the test will depend on the  probability of paternity shown by the test.  If the test shows the "combined paternity index" to be be less than 1,000 to 1, the test will be considered along with the other evidence, with no presumption of paternity arising.  If the "combined paternity index" is greater than 1,000 to 1, the presumption of fatherhood arises, and can only be rebutted by clear and convincing evidence. 

Attorney Fees in Illinois Paternity Cases

The court has discretion to order one party to a paternity to suit to pay some or all of the other party's attorney fees and costs if the party seeking attorney fees demonstrates that he or she is financially unable to pay the fees and costs, and that the other party is in fact able to pay. 

Child Support in Illinois Paternity Cases

In a paternity action, child support is treated as in a divorce case with two exceptions.  You can read about how child support is typically handled in our articles: Child Support Explained, and Changes to  Child Support Laws for 2017.

Unlike child support in a dissolution case, if the suit was brought within two years of the birth of the child, the court has discretion to award reasonable expenses related to the mother's pregnancy.   

Retroactive child support is also treated differently in a paternity case.  In a dissolution case, retroactive child support may be awarded in certain limited circumstances.  However, in a paternity case, the court may award child support retroactive to the child's birth, based on the following factors:

  1. The father's knowledge of the circumstances of the child's birth; 
  2. The father's previous willingness to help support the child; 
  3. The extent to which the father was previously informed of the child's needs and to which his help was sought in supporting or raising the child;
  4. The reasons that the mother did not file the parentage action sooner; 
  5. The extent to which the father was prejudiced by the mother's delay in bringing suit.  

The difference between child support in a paternity case versus a dissolution case stems from the assumption that, in a dissolution case, the couple was previously married and the father was contributing to the care of the child during the marriage. 

Child Custody in Illinois Paternity Cases

Child custody in a parentage case is determined according to the same standards as in a dissolution case,  which you can read about in our articles: Factors Courts Consider in Determining Child Custody Issues, and Changes to Illinois Divorce Law for 2016.  The rights of unmarried parents are the same as those who were previously married, except to the extent that the "best interests" of the child are found to be different based on the lack of a prior marriage. ​

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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