As a father, having an active role in your child's life is essential to ensuring that they have a well-rounded upbringing. Your relationship with your child can shape their identity and provide the emotional support they need to thrive.
Unfortunately, if you and your child's mother were unwed at the time of their birth, and she does not recognize you as your child's legal father, your ability to have consistent contact with your child and make important decisions concerning their care may be limited. To be able to have a say in how your child is raised and enforce visitation and custody rights, you must establish paternity.
Establishing paternity means that the law recognizes you as your child's legal – not only biological –father. With such recognition, various parental rights and responsibilities are afforded to you. You can play a much more active part in your child's life.
In Iowa, there are three ways to establish paternity:
- Through marriage,
- Through a paternity affidavit, or
- Through a court order
If you are in a situation where you and your child's mother were not married at the time of their birth, you can be recognized as your child's biological father through an affidavit or a petition. The paternity affidavit requires the agreement and signatures of both you and your child's mother. If your child's mother refuses to sign the affidavit, you must petition the court to establish paternity. This blog will focus on this latter legal option.
What Are an Unmarried Father's Rights in Iowa?
In speaking about an unmarried father's rights in this state, we are referring to a situation in which you and your child's mother were unwed when your child was born. In this circumstance, your parental rights are essentially non-existent.
Under Iowa Code § 600B.40, if a child is born to unmarried parents and paternity is not established, the mother is given sole legal custody of the child.
When a parent has sole custody, they make decisions concerning various matters, including the child's:
- Legal status
- Medical care
- Extracurricular activities
- Religious instruction
You would have no legal say in any of the above issues. Thus, the values instilled in your child and the direction of your child's life will move forward without your input.
However, if paternity is established and the court recognizes you as your child's legal father, you can petition for custody and visitation. To begin the process of establishing paternity, you must submit a motion to the court. This action begins a series of other proceedings.
Court-Ordered Paternity Tests in Iowa
After you petition to establish paternity, the court will order you to take a blood or genetics test. Your child and their mother must also submit to this testing if they haven't already done so. If the results show that the likelihood of your being the father of your child is 95% or greater, the court assumes that you are the biological father, and therefore the legal father.
Once your paternity is established, as mentioned before, you can petition for visitation and custody rights. At this time, the court may also enter an order of support – your monthly financial obligation for your child (Iowa Code § 600B.25).
Can Paternity Be Challenged?
Note that even if a blood or genetics test shows that you are likely to be your child's father, your child's mother can challenge the results if a subsequent test suggests otherwise (Iowa Code § 600B.41A(1)). She must file her challenge with the court within 20 days of the results being submitted. The burden rests on her to provide clear and convincing evidence that you should not be recognized as the child's legal father.
Paternity matters can be highly emotional and complex. At The Law Offices of Mark R. Hinshaw, our West Des Moines team is here to guide you through the process and protect your parental rights. Call us at (515) 200-7571 or contact us online today to discuss your case.