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What Is a Voluntary Acknowledgment of Paternity?

handsome father and cute little child daughter showing love sign. dad and girl kid make hand heart gesture. Happy Father's day.

A Voluntary Acknowledgment of Paternity (VAP) is a document that is used in the Illinois to establish the legal paternity of a child. Establishing paternity means establishing the legal relationship between a father and a child. Being named as the legal father gives you both rights and obligations related to the child’s upbringing. Signing a VAP will have the same effect as a court order in determining the legal relationship between a child and parent. In addition, signing and filing a VAP gets the father’s name listed on the child’s birth certificate.

handsome father and cute little child daughter showing love sign. dad and girl kid make hand heart gesture. Happy Father's day.

How Is Legal Paternity Established?

There are several ways legal paternity might be established in Illinois. Paternity is presumed when a child is born while the mother and father are legally married. Paternity is also presumed in Illinois if a child was born within 300 days after the termination of a marriage. In addition, paternity in Illinois is presumed when a child was born prior to the parent’s marriage, but the father is listed on the birth certificate.

If a child is born to parents who are not married and none of the above situations apply, then there are other ways that legal paternity can be established. Some of the ways that paternity can be established for unmarried parents in Illinois include:

  • The issuing of an order from family court adjudicating paternity
  • The issuing of an administrative order by child services
  • Signing a Voluntary Acknowledgment of Paternity

While there are several methods to choose from when you are establishing paternity in Illinois, a VAP is often the fastest and simplest method. An Illinois paternity lawyer can help you to understand the pros and cons of each method and determine which method may be best for your situation.

Submitting a Voluntary Acknowledgment of Paternity

If you do decide that you want to sign and submit a VAP to establish paternity, you will first need to obtain a blank VAP form. The Illinois VAP forms are usually offered to parents at the hospital shortly after a baby is born. If you did not fill out a VAP form at the hospital, you can get the form at the Department of Human Services office, the County Clerk’s office, or online.

For the VAP to be valid, the form must be completed and signed by both parties in the presence of a witness. The witness will then need to sign and date the VAP and include his or her contact information with the form.

Once the VAP form is signed, dated, and witnessed, it must be filed with the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services. The directions for submitting the VAP are on the back of the form. It is important that you review the form carefully for any errors before submitting, because errors will cause the form to be rejected.

How Long Does a Father Have to Establish Paternity in Illinois?

A VAP can be signed as soon as a child is born, or up until the child is 20 years old. A VAP may also be completed before the child is born, but is not valid until the child is born, and the form is filed. While a paternity action to establish a father-child relationship can be filed until the child is 20 years old, actions to declare the non-existence of a parent-child relationship must be filed within 2 years of the father becoming aware of the relevant facts.

Genetic Testing in Paternity Cases

If you are questioning whether you are the biological father of a child, you may wish to request genetic testing to establish paternity. Any party to a paternity action, or the court, may request DNA testing. If a party refuses to submit to a paternity test, the court may still make a determination of paternity. If an alleged father fails to submit to genetic testing, the court may adjudicate them as the father based on testimony from the mother and other evidence. If a mother refuses to submit to genetic testing, motherless genetic testing may be conducted and used to establish paternity. 

Child Support and Paternity

Once it is determined that a father-child relationship exists, the father may be liable for child support. Ongoing child support will be calculated based on a number of factors, such as each parent’s income and the amount of court-ordered parenting time awarded to each parent. In a paternity action, the court may also award child support retroactively back to the child’s birth. Some factors that the court will consider when calculating past support include:

  • The father’s knowledge of the child’s birth
  • The reasons the mother did not file the paternity action sooner
  • The father’s previous willingness to help support the child
  • The extent to which the father was disadvantaged by the mother’s delay in bringing the action

An Illinois child support lawyer can help you to understand how a child support income shares chart is used to determine what child support should be set at. The amount of parenting time each parent has will also affect the amount of child support ordered. Parents who have a greater share of parenting time will receive child support while also giving fair and equitable credit to the other parent for his or her contribution.

Child Custody and Paternity Actions

When a child is born to unmarried parents, the mother automatically has sole legal and sole physical custody. A father who would like to seek child custody when the parents are not married will need to start by establishing paternity. Once paternity is established, the father can seek custody. A father may seek sole or joint legal custody and sole or joint physical custody. Legal custody refers to who will make important decisions about the child’s upbringing, such as the child’s education, religion, and healthcare. If parents share joint legal custody, they will both make these decisions together. Physical custody, on the other hand, refers to whom the child primarily lives with. When deciding custody issues, the court must consider what is in the best interest of the child. Some of the factors that the court will consider to determine the best interest of the child include:

  • The wishes of the parents and the wishes of the child
  • The relationship between the parent and the child
  • The child’s adjustment to his or her home, school, and community
  • The mental and physical health of each parent
  • Each parent’s work schedule and availability to care for the child
  • The parent’s ability to cooperate

What Not to Do in a Child Custody Case

If you are seeking custody, you are likely wondering what to do and what not to do in a child custody case in Illinois. You will need to establish paternity before you will have legal standing to seek custody. In addition to actions that you should be taking when seeking custody, there are also some things you should avoid doing during a custody action. Generally, parents engaging in a custody case will need to avoid doing anything that makes it appear as if they do not have the child’s best interest at heart. Some common mistakes parents make that should be avoided include engaging in verbal or physical altercations with the other parent, failing to keep up on court-ordered child support payments or visitation arrangements, and making important parenting decisions without the other parent’s involvement. 

Both verbal and physical altercations can indicate a lack of self-control and may be taken into consideration when the court makes decisions regarding child custody. In addition, physical altercations could result in charges of assault or child abuse, which could greatly impact a parent’s chances of gaining custody. Parents should also comply with any agreed upon parenting obligations, including making child support payments and committing to parenting time. Finally, it is important that parents cooperate when making parenting decisions. This demonstrates to the court that you are able to co-parent with the other parent. The ability to co-parent and communicate effectively with the other parent is an important factor in determining child custody.

Challenging a VAP in Illinois

Either parent can cancel a VAP within 60 days by completing a form called the Rescission of Voluntary Acknowledgment of Paternity. The cancelation must be filed with the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services within 60 days of the effective date of the VAP.

If more than 60 days have passed since the effective date of the VAP, you cannot rescind the VAP. Instead, you will need to go to court in order to challenge paternity. To challenge the VAP in court, a petition must be brought alleging fraud, duress, or material mistake of fact. Typically, this petition must be filed within 2 years of the VAP effective date. A DNA test showing that you are not the biological father may be included as evidence to dispute the VAP. 

Uncontested divorce lawyer Denise Erlich is passionate about helping divorcing couples in the greater Chicagoland area transition to their new life as seamlessly as possible. Ms. Erlich patiently guides her clients through every step of the divorce process and provides clients with candid advice about their case and legal options, so they can make informed decisions about their future.

Years of Experience: More than 20 years
Illinois Registration Status: Active
Bar & Court Admissions: Illinois State Bar Association U.S. District Court, Northern District of Illinois
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