Unmarried Fathers’ Rights in IL
Mothers are automatically granted significant parental rights. Unless the mother is subject to a surrogacy or adoption contract, the birth mother will automatically be treated as the legal parent of a child, with all attendant rights and duties. Depending on the circumstances, biological fathers may need to take additional steps in order to be treated as the child’s other legal parent. Continue reading for a discussion of unmarried fathers’ rights in Illinois. If you are dealing with child custody rights or if you are facing any other issues involving Illinois family law, reach out to a dedicated Chicago child custody and family law attorney for advice and assistance.
Parental rights in Illinois are principally vested in the legally established parents of a child. The birth mother of a child is automatically considered to be the legal parent, barring limited circumstances under which she has chosen to relinquish those rights. If the birth mother is married to a man at the time of birth, or she was married within 300 days before the child was born, the law presumes that the man is the legal father. The law presumes that the spouse or civil union partner of the birth mother is the child’s other parent unless either parent or a putative parent objects and provides evidence to the contrary.
Unwed fathers, on the other hand, must take additional steps to establish paternity. The easiest pathway to paternity is for both parents to sign a Voluntary Acknowledgement of Paternity (VAP) form recognizing the father as the legal parent. The form must be witnessed by a third party aged 18 or older and then filed with the Department of Healthcare and Family Services (HFS). Once the form is filed with HFS, the father’s name will be added to the child’s birth certificate. Typically, VAP forms can be signed and executed at the hospital shortly after birth.
If either parent refuses to consent to the VAP, however, then additional steps must be taken to establish paternity. Either the mother or the putative father can file a paternity lawsuit in court. The court will hold a hearing and entertain evidence on the child’s paternity. Typically, the court will order the parties to submit to a DNA test to prove whether there is a biological link between the child and the putative father. If the DNA test shows that the putative father is biologically linked to the child, or the father is contesting paternity and refuses to submit to a DNA test, the court will likely rule that he is the father. The court will issue an Order of Paternity legally establishing the parental rights and duties.
Unwed Fathers Have as Equal Rights as Mothers
Once paternity has been legally established, Illinois law treats unmarried fathers the same as unwed mothers. The law is written to be gender-neutral, granting all the same rights and obligations to the legal father as to the legal mother. Unmarried fathers have the right to seek child custody (parental responsibility), visitation (parenting time), and, where appropriate, child support. Unmarried fathers also carry the same obligations, such as paying child support when ordered to do so.
Illinois family courts strongly prefer to award some form of joint responsibility and joint parenting time (joint custody) rather than awarding sole custody to one parent. Courts presume that children benefit most from continued contact with both parents. The ultimate decision will rest on the court’s evaluation of the best interests of the child.
Call for Experienced Legal Help With Your Illinois Child Custody Matter
If you are considering divorce or dealing with child custody, allocation of parental responsibilities, spousal support, or any other family law issue in Illinois, contact the accomplished and effective Carol Stream family law attorneys at Johnson, Westra, Broecker, Whittaker & Newitt for a consultation on your case at 630-665-9600.