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Paternity by Estoppel- The Birth Certificate

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An acknowledgment of paternity on a birth certificate of a child with an unmarried woman becomes final after 60 days by statute without challenge.

By Attorney Nichole A. Collins, Paternity Law Attorney, Harrisburg, PA

I have previously examined paternity matters when they relate to a presumption of paternity if the child is born of an intact marriage (see link to article), when a father confesses to being the father (see link to article), or by something known as "estoppel."  (see link to article).  However, I want to discuss an issue that is a very specific type of confession or admission by a father.  That is, the entry of his name onto a birth certificate at the hospital when the child is born.  Once such an "acknowledgement" is signed by the father, it becomes very difficult to challenge after 60 days.

Statutory Guidelines

23 Pa.C.S.A. § 5103. Acknowledgment and claim of paternity 

(a) Acknowledgment of paternity.--The father of a child born to an unmarried woman may file with the Department of Public Welfare, on forms prescribed by the department, an acknowledgment of paternity of the child which shall include the consent of the mother of the child, supported by her witnessed statement subject to 18 Pa.C.S. § 4904 (relating to unsworn falsification to authorities). In such case, the father shall have all the rights and duties as to the child which he would have had if he had been married to the mother at the time of the birth of the child, and the child shall have all the rights and duties as to the father which the child would have had if the father had been married to the mother at the time of birth. The hospital or other person accepting an acknowledgment of paternity shall provide written and oral notice, which may be through the use of video or audio equipment, to the birth mother and birth father of the alternatives to, the legal consequences of and the rights and responsibilities that arise from, signing the acknowledgment.

(b) Claim of paternity.--If the mother of the child fails or refuses to join in the acknowledgment of paternity provided for in subsection (a), the Department of Public Welfare shall index it as a claim of paternity. The filing and indexing of a claim of paternity shall not confer upon the putative father any rights as to the child except that the putative father shall be entitled to notice of any proceeding brought to terminate any parental rights as to the child.

(c) Duty of hospital or birthing center.--Upon the birth of a child to an unmarried woman, an agent of the hospital or birthing center where the birth occurred shall: (1) Provide the newborn's birth parents with an opportunity to complete an acknowledgment of paternity. The completed, signed and witnessed acknowledgment shall be sent to the Department of Public Welfare. A copy shall be given to each of the birth parents.

What Must the Acknowledgment Contain?

This acknowledgment shall contain:

  1. A signed, witnessed statement subject to 18 Pa.C.S. § 4904 (relating to unsworn falsification to authorities) by the birth mother consenting to the acknowledgment of paternity.
  2. A signed, witnessed statement subject to 18 Pa.C.S. § 4904 by the birth father acknowledging his paternity.
  3. A written explanation of the parental duties and parental rights which arise from signing such a statement.
  4. The Social Security numbers and addresses of both birth parents. Provide written information, furnished by the department to the birth mother and birth father, which explains the benefits of having the child's paternity established, the availability of paternity establishment services and the availability of child support enforcement agencies.

Conclusive Evidence

Notwithstanding any other provision of law, an acknowledgment of paternity shall constitute conclusive evidence of paternity without further judicial ratification in any action to establish support. The court shall give full faith and credit to an acknowledgment of paternity signed in another state according to its procedures. 

Rescission- Can The Father Go Back on the Acknoweldgment?

Notwithstanding any other provision of law, a signed, voluntary, witnessed acknowledgment of paternity subject to 18 Pa.C.S. § 4904 shall be considered a legal finding of paternity, subject to the right of any signatory to rescind the acknowledgment within the earlier of the following: (i) sixty days; or (ii) the date of an administrative or judicial proceeding relating to the child, including, but not limited to, a domestic relations section conference or a proceeding to establish a support order in which the signatory is a party. (2) After the expiration of the 60 days, an acknowledgment of paternity may be challenged in court only on the basis of fraud, duress or material mistake of fact, which must be established by the challenger through clear and convincing evidence. An order for support shall not be suspended during the period of challenge except for good cause shown.

If you have questions concerning paternity or custody, contact Shaffer & Engle Law Offices, LLC toll free or email us today.

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