When a couple is not married but has a child, at the hospital they should be requested to complete a paternity affidavit. In essence, both mother and father sign the document agreeing who the father is. In addition, that form also gives the parties options to select, in advance, legal agreements on things like joint vs. sole custody, or the child’s surname.
These decisions have important legal consequences and should be made only with a full understanding of what each term means.

It can become particularly important if the parents break up. Often, a breakup involves high emotions and a desire to control the arrangements involving the child, and occasionally (unfortunately) use the child as a weapon against the other parent. If one of the parents is motivated in that direction, then the paternity affidavit could become either a shield or a sword.

In a recent scenario that came to our attention, the parents had completed the affidavit, but neither one had a copy. At the time the parents broke up, there was domestic violence and the police eventually were called. When the police arrived, because neither one had the paternity affidavit, the police were left to guess as to what the respective legal rights were of each parent. It was a very stressful situation for all, especially when each is worried about the safety of the child when with the other parent.

Thus, it is strongly recommended that you seek the advice of an attorney before the baby is due and that you fill out the form appropriately. Additionally, once the form is filled out, you should make sure you have a copy of it amongst your important papers so that you can produce it at all times.

If you have questions or would like further information and recommendations regarding this important area of law, please call us.