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Unwed Illinois fathers and the importance of establishing paternity

In recent decades, it's becoming increasingly difficult to define what constitutes as being a traditional American family. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as of 2012, roughly 40 percent of U.S. births were to unmarried women. Whether by choice or not, the fact that there are so many children being born to single mothers raises several questions, one of the most important relating to the role fathers play in the lives of these children.

When a married man and woman have a child, there is little question about the father's paternity rights. However, in cases where a child is born to parents who are not married, questions are often raised about everything from what to call the unwed biological father to his rights to see and parent the child.

Unwed fathers in Illinois and other states often encounter difficulty when attempting to gain parental and custody rights. In cases where an unwed father and the child's mother are not able to come to a resolution, legal action may be taken. For unwed fathers, the first step to gaining legal access to a child is to establish paternity.

In Illinois, a man may legally be deemed a father by the courts if he meets at least one of the following requirements:

• The man and child's biological mother are or were married and the child was born or conceived during the marriage
• The man is named as the child's father on the birth certificate
• An acknowledgment of paternity has been signed by both parents

In cases where none of the above-referenced situations apply, an unwed father, who is also referred to as a putative father in Illinois, must register with the state's Putative Father Registry. An unwed father must register either before a child is born or within 30 days of a child's birth. While certain exceptions to the 30-day registry rule apply, unwed fathers who fail to meet this registration deadline effectively waive their legal and parental rights to a child.

Unwed fathers who have questions related to paternity rights would be wise to consult with an attorney who can answer questions and provide specific advice. 

Source: U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, "The Rights of Unmarried Fathers,"  2014

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