Understanding Indiana Paternity Laws

Indiana law is quite specific when it comes to matters of paternity, and your rights as a father can differ depending on whether the baby was born out of wedlock and what type of relationship you had with the mother at the time of the birth.

A myth about custody is that the courts always side with the mother. In fact, the Indiana courts use specific factors of custody determination in seeking to understand what is in the best interests of the child. However, if you haven’t established paternity legally in certain cases, you may not have any rights as far as custody goes.

Talking to an experienced family law attorney in the state can help you understand the impact of paternity on custody matters.

Establishing Paternity in Indiana

Paternity refers to your legal status as a child’s father. Indiana provides several ways to establish paternity:

  • Via marriage. The law assumes paternity in cases where the man and woman are married when the child is born. It also assumes paternity if the child is born 300 days or less after the end of the marriage. In some cases, the husband might claim not to be the father or another man may claim that he is the father. In such scenarios, Indiana courts may require genetic testing to establish different paternity.
  • Via affidavit. Both parents can sign an affidavit at the hospital after the birth of a child to establish paternity. They can also do this at the local health department at any point before the child is legally emancipated or turns 19. However, this only works if there is no other father listed on the birth certificate.
  • Via court determination. One or both parents may file an action in court to seek a determination of paternity. This typically involves genetic testing and a final decision by the court on the matter.

Is There a Timeline for Establishing Paternity?

There are various timelines related to paternity processes in the state. Here are a few deadlines to consider:

  • To establish paternity in the hospital after the baby’s birth, both parents must complete and sign the Paternity Affidavit within 72 hours and before leaving the hospital.
  • To establish paternity via the Paternity Affidavit at the health department, both parents must complete and sign the paperwork before the child turns 19 or is otherwise legally emancipated.
  • A man who wants genetic testing after signing a Paternity Affidavit when seeking a court determination about paternity must request testing within 60 days of signing the affidavit. Otherwise, the court may not approve his request.

These are only a few of the timelines associated with what can be a complex process. When you work with an experienced family law team, they can help ensure you manage the paperwork and other tasks associated with establishing paternity in a timely manner.

How Does Establishing Paternity Impact Custody?

If paternity is established via marriage, both parents have equal rights to custody if the marriage ends. They can work on custody arrangements together or go through the courts to determine custody. The courts do not automatically give legal or physical custody to the mother over the father. Instead, they consider what is in the best interests of the child.

In cases where the parents are not married and never were married, the relationship between paternity and custody can become more complex. If the father doesn’t go through the process to establish legal paternity, he doesn’t have any legal custody rights at all. This is true even if he lived with the mother for a time or if the mother has agreed verbally that he was the father of the child. Neither of those things contributes to legal custody.

Even after a father goes through the process to establish legal paternity, his custody rights may be somewhat limited if he was never married to the mother. For example, in such cases, the mother has sole legal custody unless a court orders otherwise or there is a specific exception under the law—such as the mother is unfit to care for the child. The father can seek joint physical custody, but in many cases, he will not have joint legal custody.

Get Help Fighting for Father’s Rights

The path to paternity may not always be easy, and the path to joint custody can be even more challenging. However, these outcomes are not impossible, and working with an experienced family law attorney can help you understand what your options are and how best to approach the process.

You may also need to contend with other challenges when seeking a determination of legal paternity. In some cases, there is another man in the picture, and he may believe that he is the father of the child in question. If the woman is married to this man, you may have an uphill battle in demonstrating your paternity. Still, these situations are not hopeless for fathers who truly care about their child and want to establish a relationship with them.

If you are dealing with an issue of paternity or father’s rights, getting help from a legal professional can be important. Consider reaching out to the Deidra Haynes Law Office by calling 317-785-1832 today to find out how we can help.