Important Concepts and Terms to Understand About Your Illinois Parentage Matter

 Posted on January 18, 2022 in Divorce

 shutterstock_137446907.jpgWhat is parentage and how is child support established for unwed parents?

Parentage refers to a person who is the legal parent of a child, which may not necessarily be the natural or biological parent. In legal actions where a parent is seeking child support or allocation of parenting time and parental responsibilities, parentage or paternity is the first issue that needs to be determined to establish standing.

 In Illinois, the presumption is that when parents are married or in a civil union within three hundred days prior to the birth of a child they the parents of the child. This presumption does not exist for unwed couples. Therefore, parentage must be established prior to an order for child support, parenting time, or parental responsibilities is entered by the courts.  Under the Illinois statutes, every child is entitled to physical, mental, emotional, and financial support from his or her parents regardless of the legal relationship between the parents.

The parent with the primary responsibility for the child can seek financial support from the other party. In Illinois, if the alleged father is denying paternity, the mother may pursue child support through an administrative paternity order or through an order of paternity in a regular court proceeding.

What is a Paternity Order?

In Illinois, the Department of Healthcare and Family Services (“HFS”) may enter an administrative order establishing paternity for a child. This process begins when the mother brings an administrative proceeding through HFS against the man she believes to be the child’s father. HFS can order that the alleged father take a DNA test. If he refuses to submit to DNA testing, then HFS can request  an order from the Judge compelling him to do so. Once paternity is established, HFS will gather financial information from both parties to calculate child support. Although this process does not require an attorney, it can take more time than the court proceedings and only addresses matters of paternity and child support. HFS is not able to resolve issues such as the allocation of parental responsibility and parenting time. 

A mother or father may also establish paternity for the child with the alleged father before a court in Illinois in the form of a lawsuit called a parentage action. Illinois courts have authority to address all issues related to a parentage action, including child support, parenting time, and allocation of parental responsibilities. Either parent can initiate a parentage action by filing the proper petition and serving the other parent with a summons. 

What is a Voluntary Acknowledgment of Parentage (VAP)?

A Voluntary Acknowledgement of Parentage (VAP) is a legal document that unmarried parents can use to establish paternity. If both parents sign the VAP the name of the father may be added to the child’s birth certificate. Once the VAP is signed acknowledging who the child’s legal parents are, both parents will be responsible for contributing financially to the support of the minor child. 

While a VAP allows a father’s name to be added to the child’s birth certificate, it does not solidify his rights to parenting time or parental responsibilities, therefore,  it is more beneficial for a father to obtain a court order establishing paternity. Only a court of law allows the father to enforce his parental rights about parenting time and parental responsibilities. Therefore, unwed fathers should obtain a court order establishing paternity either by agreement with the mother or through a trial. 

Can I claim my child as a dependent on my taxes?

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has specific rules which allow the custodial parent to claim a child on his or her taxes. The IRS defines the custodial parent with the parent who has possession of the minor child(ren) for a majority of nights during the year. In Illinois, this could be determined as the parent with “primary parenting time.” However, the court has the authority to supersede the IRS rules and order that the dependency exemption be alternated.  This is common practice in domestic relations proceedings where a parent pays reasonable child support.  

With the above information at hand, it is important that you select an attorney to represent you who is experienced in handling parentage proceedings, to ensure you properly establish paternity, parental rights and responsibilities, and child support. At McSwain Nagle Giese & Rapp, P.C., all initial consultations with each of our attorneys are free of charge. If you are looking for more information about parentage proceedings, or any other family law-related issues, please contact one of our experienced attorneys at McSwain Nagle Giese & Rapp, P.C. for a free consultation.


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