Establishing paternity in Idaho
In Idaho, married couples who have a child together are automatically considered to be the legal and biological parents of that child. Both parents—and their child—will enjoy the financial and custodial benefits of parenthood without having to take any further action.
Things are more complicated when an unmarried couple has a child together. Their rights and responsibilities as parents are not automatically defined. Unmarried parents often have to turn to the legal system to protect themselves and their child, and to make sure that the child’s biological father is determined to be the “legal father” in the eyes of the state. If they do not take any further action to protect themselves, they will not enjoy many important legal protections.
For unmarried couples, the legal process begins with “establishing paternity.” Establishing paternity means that the child’s biological father is recognized by the court as the legal father, too.
How to Establish Paternity in Idaho
There are two basic ways to establish paternity in Idaho.
1. Signing the Acknowledgement of Paternity Form
The simplest way is that the parents can sign an Acknowledgement of Paternity form at the hospital after the child is born. This is a strictly voluntary decision, and it can only be used if the mother was unmarried at the time of conception and birth. (In the case that the mother was married at conception or between conception and birth, there is a special section on the form to be signed by the mother’s legal husband, agreeing that he is not the biological father of the child and has no rights or responsibilities to the child.)
Both parents should read the form together and make sure they understand it. By signing, they are agreeing that the father is the biological father and indicating that no genetic testing is needed. They should both sign it in the presence of a hospital staff member. The hospital will take a copy of the form and the birth certificate and make sure they’re filed with Vital Statistics. There is no charge to the parents for this. Both parents’ names will be included on the child’s birth certificate.
If both parents didn’t sign the voluntary Acknowledgment of Paternity form while their child was in the hospital, the child will leave the hospital with only the mother’s name on the birth certificate. The parents can still get the form from the Vital Statistics or Child Support Services Office and complete the process at a later time. Vital Records will change the birth certificate to include both parents’ names and issue a certified copy. There is a small charge for the certified copy and for revising the birth certificate.
It’s important to understand that the Voluntary Establishment of Paternity imposes financial responsibilities upon the legal father. For example, the father may have to pay child support or medical and educational expenses if he doesn’t live with the child.
2. Filing a Paternity Action in Court
The second way that paternity can be established is that a parent or a government official (typically from the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare’s Child Support Services program) can file a paternity action with the court. The reason that Child Support Services is so interested in paternity cases because it needs to make sure that children are financially supported by their biological and legal parents instead of public welfare.
The petitioner, the party filing the paternity case, must serve and file a Verified Complaint for Paternity. The Verified Complaint has to allege that the respondent, the father, is the legal and biological father of the child. The matter is then decided by a judge. There are not jury trials in Idaho in paternity matters, so the trial, if there is one, will be held in front of just the judge.
Judges have broad powers in paternity matters. They can issue an arrest warrant if a respondent is evading service of the Verified Complaint or fails to appear in court. Judges can also order the parents and child to undergo genetic testing and make a wide variety of decisions about what kinds of testimony and evidence to admit into the formal record. Judges can also appoint expert witnesses and order for them to be compensated appropriately.
At the conclusion of the trial, the judge will make a ruling whether the alleged father is the baby’s legal and biological father. If the judge determine he is, the court will issue an “Order of Filiation,” which formally establishes paternity.
Regardless of whether a father has decided to use a Voluntary Acknowledgment or a paternity lawsuit, he should register with Vital Records and indicate the commencement of paternity proceedings. This will help to protect his legal rights. The registration serves as a formal notice to the State that he intends to pursue or claim his paternity rights. The State of Idaho will then be obligated to inform him if someone wants to adopt the child.
Only the courts have the power to decide custody and visitation. If a paternity case was heard in court, the judge will decide those issues as part of the overall filiation order. If unmarried parents signed a voluntary Acknowledgment of Paternity, they must still go to court and ask the judge to make a separate decision about custody and visitation.
There are a number of reasons why parents should establish paternity of their child:
- If the father and mother live together, child support is unlikely to be an issue. But if they don’t, the father and mother may have financial obligations to pay child support, maintain health insurance, and pay medical expenses and educational costs. They can help each other financially.
- The parents can work together to make decisions that are best for their child.
- By exposing children to both parents and both sides of the family, parents bond more closely with their children from a young age and give them a feeling of inclusion and connectedness.
Children also enjoy a wide variety of benefits when paternity is established:
- The child’s birth certificate will include both parents’ names.
- The child is guaranteed the ability to access medical histories from both sides of his/her family.
- A child with a legal father can qualify, through the father, for benefits like Social Security, medical insurance, and other state, federal, and inheritance benefits.
- The child will feel satisfaction and comfort in being part of a complete, two-sided family tradition and having both parents involved.
- The child will be financially secure.
The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare, Vital Records information sheet and registration notice.