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Paternity Affidavits: What Am I Signing?

The Indiana paternity affidavit is a document provided to parents in the hospital after the birth of a child when the parents are not married. So what, exactly, are you agreeing to, if you sign a paternity affidavit after the birth of your child?

The affidavit itself is broken down into several sections, one of legally establishes that the man signing as “father” is in fact the biological father of the child. This is not a determination that can presumptively be “undone” at a later time, if the relationship fails. Even obtaining a DNA test proving the child and father are not biologically related does not necessarily change a legal finding of paternity.

Of significant importance, and a change from prior affidavit content, is that parties signing the affidavit are also agreeing that the father will have parenting time according to the Indiana Parenting Time Guidelines until and unless a court rules differently.

Another new section to the paternity affidavit is the option to establish “joint legal custody.” A mother of a child born out of wedlock in Indiana presumptively has sole legal custody of her child unless this joint legal custody agreement is signed. If you fill out this portion of the affidavit, you are agreeing to share joint legal custody of this child. Joint legal custody requires the parties to work together well enough to make major decisions jointly on behalf of the child. If the parents agree to share joint legal custody, they must submit the results of a genetic test no later than 60 days after the affidavit and is filed. If the genetic testing is not done, the joint legal custody agreement will be void; however, the establishment of paternity is still valid.

Important Points to Keep in Mind

Parties should not sign the paternity affidavit if they are not certain that the man is the biological father. Genetic testing can be performed before the form is signed, and will have to be done in any event if the parties want to establish joint legal custody. Paternity may not be reversible in the future, even if the parties find later that the man  is not the biological father.  A woman who knowingly and intentionally signs the affidavit commits a misdemeanor if she does so knowing that the man who is signing is not the biological father. Paternity affidavits are not a way to accomplish an adoption.

If you have questions or concerns about what joint legal custody means, you should not sign the section agreeing to it.

Everyone who signs a paternity affidavit should understand what the Parenting Time Guidelines are before committing themselves by signing this affidavit. Just because the parties know who the father is, does not mean the Parenting Time Guidelines are appropriate in every scenario.

These are important legal concepts, and you are committing yourself to rights and obligations (such as parenting time and child support). If you are unsure of potential repercussions or have questions, speak to an attorney before signing. Paternity affidavits are legal documents, even though they are provided by hospitals without the benefit of legal advice.