The Importance of Establishing Paternity
When a child is born in Utah to a married woman, the law presumes that her husband is the child’s father. In most cases when the parents are not married, however, establishing paternity is necessary. From a legal standpoint, what that means is to have an official declaration that a man is the child’s father. In Utah, there are a number of ways to establish paternity; we’ll get to those in a moment. But first, let’s talk about why paternity establishment is so important.
Establishing paternity creates a legal relationship. The existence of a legal relationship between a father and his child creates important rights and obligations. Without paternity, a child has no legal right to child support from his or her father, and the father has no right to child custody or parent time with the child. Establishing paternity may not automatically create an order for custody, support, or parent time, but it opens the door for a court to order those things.
In addition, establishing paternity creates other rights: a legal parent-child relationship means that the child can inherit from the father even if the father doesn’t have a will or other estate plan. (If the child dies before the father does, the father also has the right to inherit from the child.) Having established paternity means that the child may also be entitled to government benefits through the father, such as Social Security or veterans’ benefits. The child may also be able to get health insurance through the father’s employment. It may also become important for the child at some point to have access to medical information from the father’s side of the family; a legal relationship makes that access possible.
Beyond legal benefits, medical information, and financial rights, there are more intangible benefits to formally establishing paternity. Establishing paternity can create or strengthen a bond between a father and child that will enrich both their lives.
How to Establish Paternity in Utah
As mentioned above, Utah offers three methods of establishing paternity.
Voluntary Declaration of Paternity (VDP)
The simplest and most straightforward is the Voluntary Declaration of Paternity, or VDP. The VDP can be signed by the parents in the hospital when the child is born. If not signed at the hospital or birthing facility, it can be signed later at a local health department or at the Office of Vital Records and Statistics. Establishing paternity in this way is free if the VDP is signed at the facility where the child is born and the form is filed by the facility. There is a nominal fee if it is signed and filed later: as of this writing, the fee is $18.00 if the VDP is filed within a year of the child’s birth, and $25.00 if filed thereafter.
Many parents prefer to sign the VDP at the birthing facility along with the birth certificate because the facility takes care of filing the form, and it allows the father’s name to appear on the original birth certificate. However, because a VDP is legally binding, parents should not sign unless they are certain of the child’s parentage.
A parent who signs a VDP has up to 60 days (or until a child support order is established, whichever comes first, to rescind (take back) the VDP. After that time elapses, the VDP can only be challenged in court based on fraud, material mistake of fact, or duress. Even if a parent chooses to rescind a VDP, that doesn’t mean that paternity cannot later be established through one of the other methods of establishing paternity.
Administrative Paternity Order
Administrative orders are issued by government agencies. An administrative paternity order comes from the Office of Recovery Services. The process is initiated by one parent applying for child support services at an ORS office in Ogden, Salt Lake City, Provo, Richfield, or St. George. Both parents will receive a Notice of Agency Action (NAA) describing the legal process and giving them an opportunity to respond.
If paternity has not been established, it will need to be established in order to provide child support services. Unless both parents are certain that the man involved is the child’s biological father, genetic testing will be ordered at no cost to the parents. There is no charge to obtain an order of paternity through the ORS, though there may be fees associated with child support services.
In addition to legally establishing paternity, an administrative paternity order can add the father’s name to the child’s birth certificate and establish child support and medical support. The court system is not involved in the administrative paternity order process, but an administrative paternity order has the legal force of a court order.
Judicial Paternity Order
As the name suggests, a judicial paternity order establishes paternity through a court action. Either parent (or the child) can file a petition in a District Court or Juvenile Court to seek a paternity order. This method of establishing paternity is the most complicated and costly of the three. There are court filing fees, administrative fees, and if you choose to be represented by a family law attorney, attorney fees.
If you seek a judicial paternity order, you and the other parent will have an opportunity to appear before the court to present information. The court may require additional information and may order genetic testing. Once the court is satisfied that there are no remaining issues in dispute, it will issue a paternity order. The court order, like an administrative paternity order, can order child support and medical support and add the father’s name to the birth certificate. In addition, a judicial paternity order can change the child’s name and establish custody and parent time.