ESTABLISHING PATERNITY AND CUSTODY FOR UNMARRIED PARENTS IN UTAH
A father is presumed to be the father of a childborn during a marriage or, e.g., within 300 days. When a child is born in a relationship outside of marriage, the father does not automatically have the same rights and responsibilities as he would in a marriage relationship. In order for a child to receive child support and for a father to have custody and visitation rights, paternity must first be established, and the District Court must issue custody and support orders.
Establishing paternity, custody and child support orders for unmarried parents in Utah is done through a Paternity or Parentage Action in District Court. It is much like a divorce in that the Court makes paternity, custody and support orders and issues a final order called a Parentage Decree. However, they are also different from divorces, as the parties do not, e.g., divide assets or debts.
HOW TO ESTABLISH PATERNITY
There are several ways to establish a parent (father)-child relationship or paternity. A father and mother can declare the father’s paternity by signing a Declaration of Paternity. Evidence that the father is named on the child’s birth certificate, that the child took the father’s surname, and/or that the father has been providing support is good evidence for a declaration. Paternity can also be “adjudicated” in District Court and proved through either court-ordered or voluntary genetic testing.
ADVANTAGES OF ESTABLISHING PATERNITY, CUSTODY AND SUPPORT FOR A CHILD
There are many advantages to establishing paternity and adjudicating a Parentage Decree. Some of them include:
- Ensuring that the child is financially supported until adulthood, as child support belongs to the child. Child support, as well as responsibility for insurance coverage, out-of-pocket insurance premiums, uninsured medical expenses, reasonable work-related child care costs, and even school fees and extracurricular activity expenses can all be addressed in these actions. Once a support order is established through the court, you are can enforce it and address any issues through the court in what are called Orders to Show Cause, or by applying for support collection/enforcement services with the Utah Office of Recovery Services (ORS), an administrative agency.
- Establishing a predictable and stable parent-time/visitation schedule and Parenting Plan early on in the child’s life. A Parenting Plan not only spells out the visitation schedule, but it can also contain orders regarding communication between parents and child, decision-making, do’s and don’ts, alternative dispute resolution in the case of conflict or disagreement, etc.
- Avoiding a situation where a parent re-enters the picture after a long absence and the need to gradually reintroduce that child to a parent with whom they are not bonded.
- Providing your child with background about both sides of their family, including medical history and heritage.
- Your child may also qualify and be entitled to receive benefits from both parents, such as Social Security insurance, inheritances, or veteran’s benefits.
THE NEED FOR AN ATTORNEY TO FILE A PETITION FOR A PARENTAGE DECREE AND PARENTING PLAN
The Utah Courts’ webpage has provided an Online Court Assistance Program (OCAP) for parties who can’t afford an attorney to file for divorces. Unfortunately, there are very few online resources for parties who are not married, but want to establish paternity, custody and child support. An experienced attorney at Hoyer Law can draft a Petition for Parentage Decree and Parenting Plan and get you through to the finish line.
MEDIATION VERSUS TRIAL
If the parties can’t initially agree on the provisions for a Parentage Decree and Parenting Plan, they must participate in court-mandated formal mediation. It is our experience at Hoyer Law that most disagreements can be settled through mediation. At mediation, both parties will be in different rooms while the mediator goes back and forth taking offers and counter-offers until a settlement is hopefully reached. Then, either the attorneys, or the mediator, will prepare a settlement document called a Stipulation and Settlement Agreement for the parties’ signatures, which is filed with the court. Final parentage/paternity documents are drafted based on this settlement document. In the end, the parties walk away from court with a Parentage Decree.
The alternative to mediation is letting the court decide what is best for you, your child, and the other parent at trial. You give up control of the outcome to the court. Digging your heels in during mediation and relying on a judge to make the decisions in your case may leave you and the other parent feeling like you have both lost. On the other hand, if the other party is being unreasonable in consideration of the relevant law and facts of the case, a trial may be the only option.
CHANGING THE BIRTH CERTIFICATE OF A CHILD
A Parentage Decree can include an order to change a child’s birth certificate by, e.g., adding the father, removing the father, changing the surname of the child, etc. You will need an experienced paternity/parentage attorney to assist you with the language for these birth certificate orders, because the Utah Office of Vital Records and Statistics has strict requirements based on Utah Code and Administrative Rule.
GETTING STARTED ON A PARENTAGE ACTION AND ESTABLISHING PATERNITY
It is imperative that you consult and rely on an experienced family law attorney to help you navigate the sensitive areas of establishing paternity, custody, and support orders for your child. Whether you are a mother or a father, Hoyer Law firm can help you through the process to safeguard the health and happiness of your child.
Casey Hoyer is a family lawyer in Northern Utah. He as successfully completed hundreds of custody and paternity cases in multiple district courts in the state of Utah. Please call our office today to schedule a consultation at (801) 901-0797.