To Sign or Not to Sign

To Sign or Not to Sign

If you are having a baby and are not married when the baby is born, the hospital will ask both mother and father whether they both want to sign a paternity affidavit.  In the middle of the emotionally and physically exhausting experience of having a child, it can be hard to know whether this is a good idea.  Should you sign?

A paternity affidavit is a form used by the state of Indiana.  It is a sworn statement made under oath, so it is important to read it carefully before you consider signing it.  The purpose of the paternity affidavit is to have both the mother and father of a child born outside marriage swear under oath that the father is the biological father of the child just born.  Signing the paternity affidavit establishes that the man signing is the legal father of the child born.  Legal fathers have the responsibility to support their children and the right to parent them.

While it may be uncomfortable, if either the mother or the possible father of the child has any doubt that the father is the biological father of the baby just born, neither should sign the paternity affidavit.  A mother who signs a paternity affidavit is not able to later undo it.  She cannot change her mind and decide that she no longer wants the man who also signed to be the legal father.  Once the mother designates a particular man as the legal father, she cannot change that decision later.  A man who signs a paternity affidavit has a very short window to undo it.  Once this short period is over, a man only ceases to be the legal father of the child if he revokes the affidavit within the short revocation period, another man establishes himself as the true biological father, or the man who signed the affidavit accidentally discovers that he is not biologically related to the child (such as during a medical test unrelated to litigation).

If either mother or a prospective father does not want to sign the paternity affidavit in the hospital, that does not mean that neither of them cannot later establish that the man is the biological and legal father of the child.  Either person can file a request with the court to establish paternity.  This often involves a genetic test which conclusively establishes whether a man is the biological father.  He would then have all the same rights and responsibilities as if he had signed the paternity affidavit.

The use of a genetic test makes everyone certain that the correct man has been established as the legal father of a child.  When there is the glimmer of a doubt, always err on the side of getting a genetic test before signing anything which has such lifelong effects.

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Elisabeth M. Edwards Attorney
Elisabeth M. Edwards is a founding attorney at Wanzer Edwards, PC where she practices in the areas of family law and divorce, including collaborative law, family mediation and arbitration, and Parenting Coordination. Ms. Edwards completed her undergraduate degree at Hanover College, majoring in English. She went on to earn her Juris Doctor at the Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law.
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