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Think carefully before you voluntarily acknowledge paternity

It's easy to get caught up in the excitement of new life, and many people are excited at the idea of parenthood. However, if you and the mother aren't married, you may want to consider carefully whether or not you should voluntarily acknowledge paternity without DNA proof that the child is yours.

All it takes for unwed parents to establish the parentage of a child is for both the father and mother to sign an Affidavit of Parentage. If you do it in the hospital, it's free and the hospital will forward the paperwork to the Central Paternity Registry. If you wait, the process is still essentially the same, but there is a fee for adding your name to the birth certificate.

Signing the Affidavit of Parentage does not give you automatic rights to custody or visitation -- those are two issues that you have to take up in court unless you and the mother are able to come to an agreement about the issues on your own.

It does, however, mean the following things:

-- You will have legal standing to ask the court for visitation.

-- You can sue for physical custody if you believe that the mother is unfit to parent.

-- You will have legal standing to prevent the child from being given up for adoption by the mother.

-- You will have an automatic obligation to pay child support.

In addition, it's important to remember that you are giving up the right to use DNA to determine if you really are the father of the child. If you find out later that you aren't the child's father, the voluntary acceptance of paternity can't usually be undone, nor would you have the right to any free legal assistance in the matter.

Taking on the obligation of paternity for a child is a heavily emotional decision, but it has long-term financial, legal and ethical obligations that can't be set down again once they've been accepted.

You should also keep in mind that home DNA kits, which are widely available, are not reliable. The FDA has approved only 12 of the 1,000 tests currently on the market and none are the home version.

If you're unmarried and are considering taking on the responsibility of paternity for a newborn child you aren't sure is your own, out website provides information that should be helpful.

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