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Why is it important to establish paternity?

Establishing paternity is a vital part of the custody and/or child support process for unmarried couples. The establishment of paternity usually comes up when either the mother is requesting child support or applying for government assistance programs or the father is trying to get access and visitation rights to the child. However, unmarried parents who are either still in a relationship together or who have managed to work out a positive cooperative agreement as far as visitation and finances also need to understand the importance of a legal establishment of paternity.

Children almost always benefit from knowing who their parents are and being able to have ongoing relationships with both parents. A child who does not who his or her father is may struggle more with identity and understanding where he or she came from. Establishing paternity is also important for the child's medical care. Having a family medical history from both sides is important when checking risk factors for certain diseases or diagnosing a medical condition.

Early establishment of paternity can also be helpful in cases where the parents' interactions devolve over time. While everything may be going well now and the parents are able to agree on who pays for what and when each will have parenting time with the child, this can change quickly. Having paternity already established makes it much easier for court orders related to child support, custody and parenting time to be put in place quickly.

Establishing paternity is a fairly easy process when the parents are in agreement. However, it can turn difficult quickly if the mother tries to claim the man is not the father or the father attempts to deny the child. In these cases, a family law attorney can be extremely helpful.

Source: Department of Children and Family Services, "Child Support Frequently Asked Questions," accessed June 02, 2016

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