At Swietkowski & Swietkowski, P.C., our Chicago-based legal team has a proven track record of securing favorable outcomes for fathers in custody disputes arising from divorce and paternity cases, as well as related matters such as orders or protection and post-decree issues like parental relocation, changing parenting time, and child support order modifications.
What Is Paternity in Chicago?
While a paternity test itself is straightforward and conclusive, the surrounding circumstances can be intricate and emotionally charged. As a party to a paternity action, it is crucial to have reliable legal counsel from the outset, guided by a paternity lawyer in Chicago who is not only well-versed in the complexities but also capable of effectively representing you in legal proceedings.
In Illinois, paternity refers to the legal determination of a child’s biological father. Establishing paternity is important for various reasons, such as securing child support, inheritance rights, access to family medical history, and the right to be involved in the child’s life through parenting time (formerly known as custody and visitation). Illinois law has several provisions related to paternity, mainly governed by the Illinois Parentage Act of 2015.
Under the Illinois Parentage Act of 2015, paternity can be established in several ways:
Presumption of paternity
A man is presumed to be the father of a child if he was married to the child’s mother when the child was born or within 300 days before the birth. This presumption also applies to men in a civil union with the mother.
Voluntary Acknowledgment of Paternity (VAP)
In case of unmarried parents, a man can sign a VAP form, which is a legal document in which the biological father voluntarily acknowledges paternity. The VAP must be signed by both parents and witnessed. Once signed, it has the same legal effect as a court order establishing paternity, and is very difficult to undo.
If there is a dispute about paternity or if either party is unwilling to sign a VAP, either parent can initiate a paternity action in court. The court may order genetic testing to determine the biological father. If the test results indicate that the man is the child’s father, the court will issue an order establishing paternity.
If a man legally adopts a child, he becomes the child’s legal father.
Please note that the legal rights and responsibilities of paternity come into effect only once paternity has been established. This includes the father’s obligation to provide financial support for the child and his right to seek parenting time with the child (custody and visitation).
Getting a Paternity Test in Chicago
Unwed fathers often encounter numerous obstacles when it comes to their rights under state law. A widespread misbelief is that by signing a Voluntary Acknowledgement of Paternity (VAP) at the time of a child’s birth, a father automatically gains custody or visitation rights. However, in Illinois, a VAP only serves as a basis for initiating child support, offering no protection to the father concerning parenting time with the child (formerly known as custody or visitation rights).
What many fathers may not realize is that, according to Illinois law, no custody or visitation rights are granted to a father of a child born out of wedlock unless a court order confirms the biological relationship. At this point, either parent can (and should) seek further court orders regarding legal custody, visitation, and child support services for the child.
When a paternity case is initiated by either the mother or the father of a child born out of wedlock, the court typically orders the parties to take a DNA test to confirm the child’s paternity.
It is generally recommended to obtain a DNA test before entering into an order establishing paternity, child support, etc., since Illinois courts rarely overturn prior orders consenting to paternity, even in cases where the alleged father later discovers he might not be the biological parent.
DNA testing is the most accurate and widely accepted method for determining paternity. The process usually involves collecting samples from the alleged father, the child, and sometimes the mother, and comparing their DNA profiles to see if there is a biological match.
The most common type of DNA test used for paternity testing is the buccal swab test. It involves gently rubbing a cotton swab on the inside of the cheek to collect cheek cells containing DNA. The samples are then sent to an accredited laboratory for analysis. The results of the DNA test can provide a probability of paternity, which is usually expressed as a percentage. A test result of 99% or higher indicates a very high probability of paternity, while a result of 0% indicates that the tested man is not the biological father.
In legal proceedings, such as those involving child support or custody disputes, it’s crucial to have the paternity test performed by an accredited laboratory following a strict chain of custody to ensure the results are admissible in court.
Why is it Important to Establish Paternity in Chicago?
Establishing paternity is vital for both parents and children in Chicago because of its numerous benefits:
- It grants the father legal rights to seek parenting time with the child (custody and visitation).
- It enables the father and child to build and maintain a relationship.
- It ensures the child has access to crucial family medical information.
- It provides the child with financial support from both parents, helping meet their basic needs.
- It entitles the child to health insurance coverage.
- It equips the child with a comprehensive understanding of their medical and genetic history from both sides.
- It guarantees the child’s inheritance rights.
- It qualifies the child for death benefits, such as Social Security, military benefits, and pensions.
How to Dispute Paternity in Illinois
Challenging paternity typically means disputing the legal or biological father status in a paternity case. To do this, you must follow the proper legal procedures, which may include filing a petition in court to request a paternity test or to rescind a Voluntary Acknowledgment of Paternity within the specified time frame.
In Illinois, the specified time frame to rescind (cancel) a VAP is currently within 60 days of signing the VAP or before the date of a court proceeding related to the child, whichever comes first. After the 60-day period has passed or if a court proceeding related to the child has already taken place, the process to rescind the VAP becomes more difficult. You will need to file a petition in court to challenge the paternity. This process may require proving that there was fraud, duress, or a material mistake of fact when signing the VAP. The court will review the evidence and may order a DNA test to determine paternity.
Keep in mind that challenging paternity after the 60-day window or after court proceedings have occurred can be more difficult, so it is crucial to have an experienced family law attorney assist you in this process.
In certain cases, a man who initially believed he was the father may later discover that he is not the biological father. In such situations, he may petition the court to challenge paternity and disestablish his legal responsibilities toward the child. It is crucial to note that the success of such a challenge depends on the specific circumstances of the case, and Illinois courts may be reluctant to overturn prior paternity orders.
Given the complexity of paternity laws and the potential consequences of challenging paternity, it is highly recommended to seek the assistance of an experienced family law attorney at Swietkowski & Swietkowski, P.C. to navigate the process and ensure that your rights are protected.
Let Our Top-Rated Paternity Lawyers in Chicago Protect Your Parental Rights
At Swietkowski & Swietkowski, P.C., our tenacious Chicago paternity lawyers have extensive experience in handling diverse paternity situations, including:
- Putative fathers seeking to establish paternity for custody and visitation rights
- Alleged fathers contesting or questioning parentage
- Men who learn or suspect they are not the biological father of a child they’ve raised or supported
- Mothers pursuing child support, including retroactive payments
- Mothers resisting the involvement of the biological father
While a paternity test is straightforward and conclusive, the associated issues can be intricate and emotionally charged. If you’re involved in a paternity dispute, it’s essential to have reliable legal counsel from an attorney who comprehends the complexities and can effectively represent you in legal proceedings.
We proudly represent both putative and alleged fathers in paternity cases. Our Chicago-based family law firm has a proven track record of successfully managing complex and contentious paternity disputes across Illinois. We’re dedicated to vigorously defending the rights of fathers—married or unmarried—ensuring they have the opportunity to be a part of their children’s lives. Reach out to us online or call us at (773) 207-8983 to request your free consultation with a paternity lawyer Chicago.