What steps does an unmarried father need to take to protect his parental rights in Utah?
Nearly half of all births in the United States are to unmarried parents. But unlike mothers and married dads, unmarried fathers do not automatically possess parental rights in Utah. They first have to legally establish their paternity in some way. Only at that juncture will they have the same parental rights as the mother or a married father.
There are multiple ways to establish paternity under Utah law. One is by signing and notarizing a document called a “Voluntary Declaration of Paternity.” This form requires both parents to declare under oath that the father is in fact a child’s biological father and is assuming all the responsibilities that go with that. Once this form is filed with the Office of Vital Records, the father’s paternity is legally established and he acquires parental rights.
A second way is by obtaining what is called an “adjudication” of paternity. This can be done through either the Utah Office of Recovery Services or in District Court. Once the court or ORS enters an order declaring a man to be a child’s father, that man becomes entitled to full parental rights.
Beware that if an unmarried mother desires to place her child up for adoption and the father has not already legally established his paternity he may need to take additional steps to protect his parental rights. In the case of a child 6 months or younger, before the mother consents to or relinquishes a child for adoption the unmarried father must: (1) initiate proceedings in a district court of Utah to establish paternity, (2) file a sworn affidavit with the court stating he is fully able and willing to have full custody of the child, set forth his plans for care of the child, and agree to a court order of child support and payment of expenses incurred in connection with the mother’s pregnancy and the child’s birth, (3) file a notice of commencement of paternity proceedings with the Utah Office of Vital Records, and (4) pay or at least offer to pay, both during the pregnancy and after the child’s birth, a fair and reasonable amount of expenses incurred in connection with the mother’s pregnancy and the child’s birth in accordance with his financial ability. The father must also be prepared to show he provided both financial and emotional support to the mother during the last six months of her pregnancy (unless the mother refused to accept such support). All of this must be done before the mother’s relinquishment, otherwise the unmarried father may forfeit his parental rights.
Establishing paternity is important and the legal consequences of not strictly complying with the law can be severe. Give us a call today at 855-254-2600 for a free consultation to discuss how to ensure your parental rights are protected.