Married and unmarried couples may operate in much the same ways. However, certain legal procedures are different for married couples than for unmarried couples -for example, establishing paternity. In a marriage, the husband is legally presumed to be the father of any children born during the marriage. For unmarried couples, that legal presumption does not exist, therefore paternity will need to be established according to state law.
The issue of paternity often arises when a mother seeks child support from the child’s biological father. For unmarried couples, it will need to be established that he is in fact the child’s biological father before a court will grant child support. In North Dakota, there are two main ways to prove that a child’s biological father is also the child’s legal father.
The first is by voluntarily signing an acknowledgment of paternity form. The North Dakota Acknowledgment of Paternity form provides information regarding the signatories’ rights, responsibilities and legal consequences and may be signed before or after the child is born. It may be obtained from the birthing hospital or from a North Dakota Regional Child Support Unit and filed with Vital Records.
The form operates like a court order establishing legal paternity and bestowing legal rights and responsibilities upon the father. Courts may then order the father to pay child support, however residential responsibility will still be decided based on the best interests of the child if an agreement between the parents is not met. If unmarried parents choose not to complete the acknowledgment of paternity form, they may pursue the second option for establishing paternity – filing a paternity lawsuit.
In paternity lawsuits, genetic testing may be conducted to determine the child’s biological, and therefore legal, father. In North Dakota, the Child Support Division has teamed up with LabCorp to provide such testing. The results of these tests are sufficient to establish legal paternity due to their high degree of accuracy.
It is important to note that parents who voluntarily acknowledge paternity relinquish their right to have paternity established through genetic testing. Whether by voluntary acknowledgment or legal order, it is important to establish paternity so that children may receive all accompanying legal rights and privileges such as child support and relationships with their fathers.