By Terri L. Stromatt
In response to a growing need from the Inland Empire and surrounding communities, DNA Services of America continues to help its neighbors fully understand how DNA testing can resolve complex, highly-emotional and confusing situations. One critical area for unwed parents is completion of the Declaration of Paternity.
The birth of a new baby should be a time of joy and excitement. A new life has entered the world and is joined with its adoring mother and father. The miracle of birth should be a time of joy, with as little stress as possible - a time for learning, family bonding and loving. For those parents who have children outside of marriage, currently at a rate of 35.7% on a national level and 34.4% in the State of California, the joyous moment can come to an immediate halt when it is time to complete the birth certificate paperwork and they first learn about a legal document called a Declaration of Paternity.
The Declaration of Paternity ("DOP") is also known by other names in various states, such as the Affidavit of Parentage and Voluntary Acknowledgement of Paternity; however, the rules that apply to its completion are standard across the country. Believe it or not, most new parents are completely unaware of the DOP until they meet with the birth certificate registrar or other trained hospital personnel for the first time when they complete the birth certificate documents for their newborn. This can come as quite a shock, leaving parents unsure what to do or how to respond given the amazing birth experience that just took place and awesome responsibility that they are now faced with.
The DOP is a legal document and its application is generally managed at the state level through the Attorney General's office. The DOP is meant to have a positive impact on the child, to ensure it begins its new life with emotional and financial security through participation by both parents. In situations where the mother and father of the child are not married, the only way the father can be legally recognized is through written acknowledgement or through a court order.
The mother and father are encouraged to make a decision at the hospital as to whether or not the father will sign the DOP. If he does not sign the document right away,
• He may seek a DNA test to establish paternity then he and the mother may file the completed DOP at a later date for a minimal fee; or
• The mother may open a case to establish paternity through the state; or
• If neither the mother nor father act, the child's birth certificate will be left without a father's name or recognized paternal guardian. The mother may not be entitled to certain welfare benefits if she does not attempt to establish a father to help support the child.
It is extremely important for a child to have a father involved in his or her life; however, it can be very stressful for new parents who may not be prepared for an immediate decision that may have far-reaching effects, such as:
* emotional security
* Financial support for the child
* Visitation and/or custodial rights
• Medical history relative to paternally-inherited diseases
• Medical, dental, social security, military child survivor or other benefits
• Moral and ethical upbringing of the child.
It is important for new parents faced with acknowledging the paternity of a child to remember that this is a voluntary action. New parents have the choice to wait and think through the best options for their particular situation and should not feel pressured into making an uninformed decision that may be personally detrimental or most importantly, negatively impact the child. It is easier for parents to add a name to the DOP and birth certificate than it is to remove a father's name if a subsequent DNA test finds that he is not the biological father of the child. If a father signs the DOP, he generally has only sixty (60) days to rescind his name. Depending on the state, rescission means his name is removed from the AOP; however, many times it does not mean his name is removed from the birth certificate. In fact, this action may require legal intervention. If the father signs his name then wants a paternity test, he must generally seek one on his own accord and is no longer a candidate for testing services through the state.
If the father does not rescind his name during the 60-day period and later wishes to remove his name, it will be challenging and sometimes impossible. Remember, the purpose of the father acknowledging his desire to be the recognized father of the child is to protect the newborn and to protect his parental rights. Most DOP instructions clearly state that if a father is not sure of his biological relationship to the child, he should seek proof through a paternity test. If the father does not seek a test before signing the DOP and the 60-day grace period passes, most states have a four (4) year statute of limitations for filing a lawsuit to contest the voluntary DOP. This does not make the reversal a guarantee. The court will require proof that the document was signed under one of the following three conditions:
• Fraud - someone lied when signing the document
• Duress - the father was forced to sign the document
• Mistake of fact - the father thought one thing and another thing was true
Check with the Attorney General's office for your state's regulations.
Unwed parents-to-be are encouraged to research their state's paternity acknowledgement process before their child is born so that they fully understand what they will be signing when the child arrives. Education, open communication, and keeping the child's best interest at the forefront are key when establishing legal paternity. Being prepared for this life impacting decision will not only reduce family tensions at a critical time but will also help create emotional and financial security for this new life through the participation of both parents.
DNA Services of America's local offices established throughout the U.S. personally handle DNA testing needs in an attentive and confidential manner. Each office personally answers client questions, coordinates the testing services, collects the DNA samples using a non-invasive cotton-tipped swab, and releases test results to the tested parties following appropriate chain-of-custody procedures to ensure clients receive the highest level of discretion. DNA Services of America is a leading referral source throughout the medical, legal, social service and private investigative communities for people seeking the truth when it matters most®.
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