I recently found out my ex-girlfriend is three months pregnant. The child may be mine, but I am unsure. How do I assert my parental rights?

Question: I recently found out that my ex-girlfriend is three months pregnant and may give up the child for adoption. What are my rights if the child is determined to be mine and I wanted custody?

Answer: Declaring parental rights for an assumed father can be accomplished through the following three ways: Putative Father Registry, Acknowledgement of Paternity, or a Petition for Paternity. Any one of these methods can be asserted before or after the child is born. Each method has its own advantage and disadvantage depending on when the claim for paternity is made.

Asserting Parental Rights Before the Child is Born

Putative Father Registry

In New York State, if a man believes he is the father of a child, he must register with the Putative Father Registry. Registering will notify the alleged father in the event someone else attempts to establish paternity of that child, or attempts to put that child up for adoption. Therefore, by registering, the alleged father protects his parental rights. Registration can take place before the child is born, and the process does not require the participation of the mother.

Acknowledgments of Paternity

An Acknowledgments of Paternity requires the signature of both the alleged father and mother, acknowledging the alleged father’s paternity of the child. The document is typically signed at the time of the child’s birth; however, the document may be signed anytime before the child turns 21-years-old.

Asserting Parental Rights After the Child is Born

As noted above, an Acknowledgement of Paternity can be completed at the time of birth. However, given the circumstances of your situation, and the potential for adoption, having the Acknowledgement of Paternity signed as soon as possible will preserve your rights to future custody.

Order of Filiation

In New York State, after a child is born, an alleged father may petition for paternity under an action called an Order of Filiation. This process involves court review of evidence supporting an alleged father’s claim to paternity. Often, DNA testing is used as a quick (although not necessarily conclusive) means of proving paternity. Administering a DNA test can take place anytime before the child is born up to the date the child turns 21-years-old. (However, due to the intrusiveness of fetal DNA testing, an alleged father, out of concern for the child’s health and safety, may consider waiting until the child is born.)

Lastly, in the event DNA testing is inconclusive, a hearing will be scheduled in Family Court and a judge will consider further evidence to help determine paternity.