According to New York State law, a child born to unmarried parents has no legal father. Voluntary Acknowledgment of Paternity (AOP) is a legal process through which paternity, or legal fatherhood, can be established. If parents are not eligible for voluntary Acknowledgment of Paternity, they can establish paternity by filing a paternity petition in Family Court.
Questions and answers about voluntary Acknowledgment of Paternity are organized as follows:
|General questions||Mother's concerns|
General questions about acknowledging paternity
- Is the information kept confidential?
- All information entered on the Acknowledgment of Paternity (AOP) form is confidential and cannot be released unless ordered by a judge. Only the parents and the child named on the form, the child's legal guardian or representative, or government officials acting in the capacity of their official duties may obtain copies of the form.
- What about parents who are minors?
- Parents who are minors can acknowledge paternity for their child.
- What if the mother is or was married?
- If the mother is or was married at any time during the pregnancy, she must NOT complete an AOP form! Only unmarried parents may sign an acknowledgment of paternity.
- What if one or both parents are reluctant to sign?
Acknowledgment of paternity is voluntary. Consider the parents' circumstances when discussing acknowledgment of paternity. If both parents seem cooperative, it may be appropriate to discuss the acknowledgment with both parents at the same time. However, if the parents are not together or have specific individual concerns, each parent should be approached separately and in private.
Paternity can also be established at a later date, either by Family Court or by acknowledgment.
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- When is genetic testing recommended?
Genetic testing is recommended whenever there is any doubt about the child's father.
Hospital staff should remind unmarried parents that genetic testing is available through Family Court and these tests can resolve any doubts. Anyone with any doubt should not complete an Acknowledgment of Paternity form.
- What about surrogate births?
- An unmarried surrogate mother can sign an Acknowledgment of Paternity with the husband of a married couple when the husband is the sperm donor. The surrogate mother must not be married at any time during the pregnancy nor at the time of birth. Adoption proceedings will follow the signing of the AOP form.
Special concerns of mothers
- My temporary assistance benefits will be reduced or cancelled
Acknowledging paternity will not cause a person's temporary assistance benefits to end.
In fact, acknowledging paternity (and applying for child support services) is a requirement for receiving temporary assistance. If a mother does not help Child Support personnel to establish paternity and pursue child support, her benefits can be reduced or cancelled.
- I'll lose custody of my child
- Acknowledging paternity does give the noncustodial parent the right to file a custody petition with Family Court. However, having the right to file a petition does not mean that the noncustodial parent will actually request or be given custody. Only the court can decide custody issues.
- The father will stop helping me
- If child support is not requested in court, any informal payment agreements will not be affected by an Acknowledgment of Paternity.
- The father has no income or is still in school
- The father's circumstances may change, and he may have a good income in the future. Acknowledging paternity will entitle his child to financial and medical benefits if they become available.
- I want no contact with the father
- Even if a mother wants no contact with the father, acknowledging paternity has important benefits for the child, such as financial or medical support, information about family medical history, and the possibility of sharing parental responsibilities.