The question of when to sign a voluntary acknowledgment of paternity is quite common. Roughly 40 percent of today’s births are outside wedlock. This percentage has almost doubled since 1990. Furthermore, the proportion is much higher among certain socioeconomic groups. Raising a child is challenging enough. Single-parent families face additional legal, emotional, and financial challenges which are often difficult to overcome.
To help your child overcome these challenges, it’s normally best to sign a voluntary acknowledgment of paternity. However, a VAP is only the first step in establishing a legal and emotional parent/child relationship.
A fathers’ rights lawyer in Naperville can help you establish this relationship. In most cases, a VAP only establishes an administrative parent/child relationship. This relationship usually involves little more than paying child support. A legal relationship triggers the provisions of Illinois’ co-parenting law. This law not only guarantees equal opportunities for mothers and fathers. In most cases, it dictates that both parents play an active role in the child’s life.
Benefits of Paternity
Most fathers don’t consider paying child support to be a benefit of paternity. But it is. A father who pays child support puts his money where his mouth is. Well-meaning words and deeds are often empty unless something tangible backs them up.
Furthermore, child support payment portals create an irrefutable presumption that the mother received the money. It’s rather easy for someone to say s/he never got the check in the mail. That argument ultimately does not hold up in court. Though, the other party, in this case, the father, must disprove this allegation.
On a related note, a payment portal shifts the burden of payment onto the mother. Outside a payment portal, which is usually an internet portal, the burden is on the father to provide accessible funds to the mother. With a portal, which is usually the only way a father can pay, the mother must make arrangements to receive the money.
Finally, a child support portal is an easy way to provide additional support. If Gary buys his son back-to-school supplies, he gets no official credit for it. But if he transfers funds to his son’s mother, he receives official credit.
A paternity order also offers immediate emotional benefits. As mentioned, an administrative order stops at child support. So, an administrative finding, based on a VAP, is a good start. But it’s only a start.
There is a presumption in Illinois that children benefit from frequent, meaningful, and consistent contact with both parents. The traditional every other weekend and every other holiday arrangement only goes so far. The timeshare division is quite one-sided. So, most DuPage County judges also permit unlimited, or at least liberal, electronic contact via Skype, FaceTime, or another platform.
Moreover, there are some ways to even out the physical timeshare division. Block scheduling is a popular, albeit rather radical, method. A child spends a block of time, usually two weeks, with Parent A, an equal amount of time with Parent B, and then the cycle repeats. In addition to being more even, this schedule is also much more predictable for everyone.
Extending weekends is a less radical, but almost as effective, approach. By starting weekend visitations on Thursday and ending them on Monday, the timeshare division moves from about 70-30 to about 60-40.
Finally, there are long-term emotional benefits. Only legal conservators can obtain full custody, at least in most cases. So, if obtaining residential custody is on your to-do list for a future time, a paternity order is usually the only way to get there.
Even non-residential parents have substantial legal rights that only a court can grant. These rights include the right to attend school activities, have input about the way the child is raised, and receive notice about address and other such changes.
The Determination Process
A VAP creates a presumption that the petitioner is, in fact, the child’s father. Signing a VAP is the legal equivalent of signing a birth certificate. It’s then up to the father to bring an official paternity action in court. The mother can contest this proceeding, but these contests are simple to resolve.
Noninvasive DNA swab tests are almost entirely conclusive in all cases. It’s even more difficult to invalidate this scientific evidence than it is to challenge general paternity.
With this matter out of the way, the judge moves to child custody and financial support matters. These provisions are the heart of a paternity order.
We mentioned some general Illinois child custody arrangements above. Depending on the best interests of the child, the judge may limit contact, at least temporarily. Some best interest factors include:
● Child’s Wishes: The law is very subjective on this point. Based on a “child’s maturity and ability to express reasoned and independent preferences as to decision-making,” a judge may reject the preference of a 17-year-old and accept the preference of a 10-year-old. In a paternity action that involves a very young child, this factor is usually more applicable in modification matters.
● Parent’s Wishes: Sometimes, parents express their preferences directly. Some parents, such as new fathers, are okay with being weekend parents. Other times, this expression is indirect. Fathers who have previously provided little or no emotional or financial support usually get little consideration.
● Ability to Co-Parent: We mentioned challenges to paternity above. Frequently, parties mount these challenges simply to be difficult. Such tactics usually do not impress judges. The reason, quite rightly, is that if a parent is intransigent during the case, that attitude will be even worse when court supervision ends. So, molehills become mountains.
● Status Quo: There is an old saying among fathers’ rights lawyers in Naperville that possession is nine-tenths of the law. If the current time-sharing arrangement is working, most judges don’t want to upset it, unless they have a good reason to do so.
● Domestic Violence: Most of these factors have roughly equal weight. This one is different. Recent, verified domestic violence allegations are usually a deal-breaker when it comes to co-parenting. These parents normally receive restricted contact, such as supervised visitation.
A social services investigation is usually the primary evidence in a custody dispute. A social worker investigates the matter and makes a recommendation. This recommendation is not technically binding, but it might as well be. Judges rarely buck social worker reports.
Most initial determinations settle out of court. These resolutions benefit everyone, especially the children.
These determinations also establish child support, usually in accordance with state guideline amounts. Some factors in the guidelines include the income of both parents, the number of children, and the parenting time division. Judges occasionally order additional financial support as well, such as reimbursement for medical bills.
Modifying Parenting Time and Financial Support Provisions
The emotional and financial basis for these orders changes over time. Generally, a Naperville fathers’ rights lawyer should legally modify these papers at least once every four years, to keep pace with the family’s changes.
Typically, the judge will modify the provisions if both parents agree to the alteration or circumstances have materially and substantially changed.
It’s always important to get changes, no matter how minor they are, in writing. Side agreements, even if they are in writing and signed, are unenforceable in family court. So, if one parent unilaterally decides to go back to the way things were before, the other parent has no legal options, even if the parent has moved or made other life changes in reliance on this agreed alteration.
People do change. Children mature, and so do their parents. That emotional change, by itself, could be sufficient to support a legal modification. That’s especially true in stamp-of-approval modifications. For example, if Susie is already spending more time with her father, the aforementioned status quo factor kicks in.
Onset or removal of a parent’s disability could also justify a modification. Perhaps Mother develops a serious muscle disease that limits her mobility, or perhaps Father develops a substance abuse problem.
Relocation is usually the most common basis for paternity modification in DuPage County. Illinois law is rather complex in this area. Residential parents need court permission to move with their children in the following situations:
● 25 miles, if the new or old residence is in Chicagoland
● 50 miles, if the old or new residence is outside Chicagoland
● 25 miles, if the new residence is across state lines
Once again, judges usually approve these moves if they are in the best interests of the children. That’s different from the best interests of the parents. Moves are nearly always in the best interests of the parents. But they’re only in the best interests of the children if the new residence would be substantially better in some way.
Typically, the parties settle these matters out of court. For example, Father may agree to Mother’s relocation if she agrees to increase visitation time and to shoulder most of the transportation costs.
Child support changes are relatively straightforward. Once again, the guidelines usually apply. The reason for the change could be an issue. Income change must be permanent. A one-time bonus or temporary business downturn usually doesn’t support successful modification action. Furthermore, the change must have been made in good faith. People cannot quit high-paying jobs to reduce their child support obligations.
Other financial support matters, such as the aforementioned hospital reimbursement, are equally straightforward. Typically, attorneys include language in paternity orders which states that these payments stop once a certain amount is paid.
Reach Out to a Dedicated Naperville and Bolingbrook Fathers’ Rights Attorney
Paternity actions help transform a father into a dad. For a free consultation with an experienced Naperville fathers’ rights attorney, contact Keller Legal Services at 630-505-1515. Convenient payment plans are available.