When a married couple has a child in Oregon, the husband in the couple is assumed to be the father under the law. A child has a right to receive financial support from the father until at least age 18. The child also has the right to inherit should the father die. The legal relationship between a father and a child is called "paternity."
When a couple isn't married at the time the child is born, paternity has to be established before the legal rights between the child and father take effect. Establishment of paternity grants both rights and responsibilities to the father. Rights to visitation do not exist until paternity is legally established, and there is no legal responsibility to pay child support either.
I will explain how paternity is established in Oregon and why you might want a lawyer to help you with the process.
There Are Two Ways to Establish Paternity
When the parents of a child aren’t married, paternity of the child can still be established in two basic ways:
1. A father can voluntarily acknowledge the child is his. If the mother agrees, paternity can be established without much trouble.
2. Either parent can file a paternity lawsuit asking the court to decide who the child’s father is.
Acknowledging Paternity: Yes, Sir, That's My Baby!
If this form is signed at the hospital by both parents, hospital staff can take care of witnessing and filing the forms on your behalf. If you marry after the birth of the child, the forms will still need to be filed with the state. This form cannot be used if the mother was married at any time during the pregnancy, as her husband will be presumed to be the father. If the husband of the mother is not the father of her child, a paternity action before the court can rightly establish paternity, but it will be more complicated.
NOTE: If you’re not sure you’re the father, you should not sign the acknowledgement form. Signing the form means you agree you are the biological father of the child and you will be held financially responsible for that child’s needs.
After signing the form, the mother and father each have 60 days to take back the acknowledgement. A parent can’t take back the acknowledgement after a court orders child support or visitation for the child. Acknowledgement of paternity can be taken back after 60 days only if there’s been fraud, duress, or a material mistake of fact. For example, if you’ve been tricked or forced into signing the acknowledgement form, you can file a petition to challenge paternity.
You also shouldn’t sign an acknowledgement of paternity form unless both parents agree on child support, visitation, and how major decisions for the child will be made. If you can’t agree with the other parent on all of those issues, you should let a court decide them at the same time it establishes paternity.
The state of Oregon makes forms available online at their site. I encourage you to look over the forms carefully when deciding if you want to hire me or any other attorney to help you in this matter.
When One Party Won't Sign: Establishing Paternity Through the Courts
To have the court establish paternity, you need to file a “Petition to Establish Paternity” in the circuit court for the county where you live. Any of the following people can file a petition to establish paternity:
the mother of a child born out of wedlock
a man claiming to be the father of a child born out of wedlock
a representative of the Division of Child Support (DCS) or District Attorney
an appointed guardian of the child, or
the child, through a guardian ad litem representing the child
If the other parent will not agree to establish paternity and the child is under 18, you may contact Division of Child Support to ask for help establishing paternity.
If the mother or child receives Oregon public assistance the case will automatically get referred to DCS. Either parent can seek assistance from the Lane County District Attorney.
Additionally, either parent can hire an attorney or file the petition to establish paternity. The court may order genetic testing to determine the biological father of the child. If one of the parties still doesn’t agree to establish paternity, the court can hold a trial where the judge will decide if paternity has been established. The judge can also decide other issues like child support, custody and visitation, if the parties cannot come to an agreement.
Why Should Paternity Be Established?
Oregon encourages parents to establish paternity whether the parents are in a relationship or not. Children deserve to know their parents. Being able to access parents’ medical history can even help save a child’s life. A child might be eligible to get benefits from both parents, such as Social Security or veterans’ benefits. Children can also inherit from both parents after paternity has been established.
There are benefits for parents who establish paternity as well. After paternity has been established, Oregon law says that both parents have equal rights and responsibilities to the child. A legal father has a right to visitation with his child. A legal father can be included in major decisions that need to be made for the child.
Finally, having two parents contribute support can help ease the financial burden on a would-be single parent and increase the child's quality of life.
If you have questions after having read this article, please call my office at 541-844-0625 or email me.