When a child is born, it usually quite obvious who the mother is. However, ascertaining the father's identity can be much more difficult, especially when the mother and father are not married to each other.
In Arkansas, when a child is born to an unwed woman, the mother is automatically granted sole physical and legal custody. An unmarried father has no automatic rights, even if he and the mother live together or are in a committed relationship. If the man wishes to protect his fathers' rights, he must take legal action to establish paternity.
It is important to recognize that putting the father's name on the birth certificate is not sufficient to establish legal paternity. Instead, both the mother and the father need to sign a document called an "Affidavit Acknowledging Paternity."
Usually, the hospital will provide a copy of the affidavit for the parents to sign. If one of the parents refuses to sign the form or otherwise denies paternity, the other parent has a right to request a court-ordered DNA test.
Legal Paternity Confers Important Rights
It is important for unmarried fathers to establish legal paternity as soon as possible after their child is born.
Without a determination of paternity, biological fathers may not have standing to pursue child custody or visitation. Further, establishing legal paternity will allow children to inherit from their father and to receive certain government benefits if the father dies.
Paternity also comes with a lot of responsibilities, including a duty to pay child support. For that reason, it is important not to sign an Affidavit Acknowledging Paternity unless you are sure that you are the father.
Unmarried fathers are entitled to play a role in their children's lives. They just need to take a few extra steps to ensure that right is protected.
Source: Arkansas Legal Services Partnership, "Establishing Paternity."