Establishing Paternity in Illinois

In Illinois, paternity is a legal relationship between a father and his child. The Illinois Parentage Act (750 ILCS 45/) outlines that it is the right of every child to the physical, mental, emotional, and monetary support of his or her parents.

When a mother is not married when a child is born, it’s not always clear who the father is. If a mother is or was married when the child was conceived and/or born, her husband (or ex-husband if no longer married to him at the time of conception or birth) is presumed to be the legal father of that child. If the natural mother and father marry after the child’s birth and the father is named, with his consent, on the birth certificate, he is presumed to be the father. If parents are unmarried, paternity establishment is not automatic and the process should be started by both parents as soon as possible for the benefit of the child.

Pro se filers (persons representing themselves and filing the documents with the Court on their own) will file their documents with the Circuit Court Clerk. In Cook County, the Daley Center has a Self-Help Web Center created by Illinois Legal Aid Online, which offers legal resources and provides information on Illinois law and court procedure.  This is located in Room 602 of the Daley Center. All unmarried parents are eligible to receive free assistance with establishing paternity through the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services (HFS).

The easiest way to establish paternity in Illinois is for both parents to sign a Voluntary Acknowledgment of Paternity form. Paternity may also be established by an Administrative Paternity Order entered by the Department of Healthcare and Family Services Child Support Services, or by an Order of Paternity entered in court by a judge. If the parties are unsure who the child’s father might be, the Voluntary form should not be signed.

Signing a Voluntary Acknowledgment of Paternity form is executing an official, legal document. In doing so, genetic testing is waived, and the responsibility to provide financial and medical support begins. The Acknowledgment also gives the father the right to ask the court to legally provide him with visitation or custody; it does not in itself give legal custody or visitation rights to the father.

What is Paternity? 

Paternity means fatherhood. Establishing paternity is the process of determining the legal father of a child. When parents are married, in most cases, paternity is established without legal action. If parents are unmarried, paternity establishment requires a formally executed document or a court order. The process should be started by both parents as soon as possible for the benefit of the child.

How You Can Benefit From Paternity Establishment 

Until paternity is established, the father does not have the legal rights or responsibilities of a parent. Establishing paternity is necessary before custody, visitation, and child support can be ordered by the court. (Note: custody and visitation issues are handled separately from child support.) A permanent child support order cannot be established for a child until either the alleged father admits paternity or it is proven that he is the father. If the man will not admit that he is the father, DNA tests will be ordered from the mother, child, and alleged father.

How Your Child Benefits From Paternity Establishment

Establishing paternity is an important first step in obtaining child support. In addition to providing the basis for obtaining support from the noncustodial parent, establishing paternity gives a child born to unmarried parents the legal rights and privileges of a child born within a marriage. Those rights and privileges may include:

  • support from both parents
  • legal documentation of who his or her parents are (father’s name can be added to the birth certificate)
  • enable access to family medical records (Many diseases, illnesses, birth defects, and other health problems are passed to children by their parents.)
  • medical and life insurance coverage from either parent, if available
  • secure inheritance rights
  • Social Security and veterans’ benefits, if available
  • the emotional benefits of knowing who both parents are
  • protect the rights of the parents

What Information is Needed to Establish Paternity When the Alleged Father Does Not Cooperate

  • facts about the relationship, the pregnancy, and the child’s birth;
  • whether or not the alleged father ever provided any money for the child;
  • whether or not the alleged father ever admitted in any way that the child was his (for example: through letters or gifts);
  • a picture of the alleged father with the child, if available;
  • any information from others who can verify the mother and alleged father’s relationship;
  • the alleged father’s home address;
  • his home or business address;
  • whether or not the child was conceived in Illinois and if the child ever lived in Illinois

What if he denies he is the father, or says he’s not sure?

Paternity may be determined after DNA tests are given to the mother, child, and the alleged father. Test results are available in a matter of weeks. The tests exclude men who are not the father and indicate the likelihood of paternity of a man who is not excluded. DNA tests are very reliable, which is why so few paternity cases go to trial.

Is there an age limit for the DNA tests to be done on a child?

No. Children of any age may be tested, although some laboratories will not take samples from an infant younger than six months of age.

Despite the DNA tests, the alleged father still says he is not the father. Will the case be closed?

No. If the DNA tests show that he is the father, the matter will be set for a hearing or trial and paternity will be decided. This process could take from a few weeks to more than a year, depending on the circumstances.

What happens if the father leaves the state before paternity is established?

If the alleged father is found and served a formal complaint, the local court will be making a decision on the paternity question. At the same time, a court order to pay child support may be issued. This order can be enforced by any state. However, enforcement may take longer when the non-custodial parent lives outside of Illinois.

Why should paternity be established if the father has no money to support the child?

When the father starts working, he will be able to support the child. Establishing paternity as soon as possible will make collecting child support easier later on.

What happens after paternity is established?

Once paternity is established, child support can be established by the court.  Custody and visitation may also be established now that the father has been legally identified.