In Pennsylvania, unmarried fathers can establish paternity over their children in two ways.
One is to go through the court system. By contacting the local court, a father can arrange for DNA testing and secure an order establishing paternity over his child.
The other is to sign an Acknowledgement of Paternity. So long as the child’s mother also signs, a man can sign this form and become a child’s legal father.
This means the man has the right to raise and have a relationship with the child on equal footing with the mother. On the other side of the coin, as the legal father, the man has a legal responsibility to support the child financially.
Why would I need to establish paternity if I get along with the mother?
The short answer is that a father’s relationship with the mother can break down. If it does break down, then the father’s legal rights with respect to his children may be called into question and or doubt.
In other words, he will see the children if and when the mother wants him to. He will most likely be prohibited from participating in even important decisions about the child’s life, such as medical care, religion and education.
Once a father establishes paternity, he does have expansive rights to a relationship with his children and can go to court to enforce those rights.
Still, there are some things a Pittsburgh resident should be aware of before signing an Acknowledgement of Paternity.
For one, it is very hard to revoke the Acknowledgement after 60 days pass from a man’s signing it. Even if he has his doubts, the man legally will be the dad and legally must pay child support.
Establishing paternity is not the same as getting a custody order
It is also important for fathers to realize that even if they are the legal fathers of their children, this alone does not give them custody or parenting time.
A court will first have to approve of a specific parenting plan which hopefully the father and mother can agree on. If they cannot agree on a parenting plan, then the court will have to decide which parent gets custody and how often each parent will have their children.