I. How to Establish Paternity in Oklahoma?
Other than marriage, there are two basic methods that unmarried Oklahoma parents take to establish paternity: the parents can sign an “Acknowledgement of Paternity” (AOP), or else the question of the baby’s paternity can be adjudicated (decided) by a judge after someone files a paternity lawsuit.
II. Voluntarily establishing paternity
As to the first method, signing the AOP is a simple and totally voluntary process. (By contrast, going to court is an involuntary process because everyone is bound by the judge’s decision and there’s no element of choice.)
Unmarried couples frequently choose to sign the AOP at the hospital or birthing center. The hospital has the necessary forms and staff available to assist you with the paperwork.
The AOP can only be signed in the presence of a witness (the parents can’t be witnesses for each other) and the hospital can supply a witness when the parents are ready to sign. The hospital will also make sure the AOP is properly filed, and everything will be done free of charge.
But if you’re not ready, you don’t have to sign the AOP at the hospital. You can sign later if that’s what you want—if you don’t sign at the hospital, you can sign at the Oklahoma State Department of Health, Division of Vital Records, any county health department, or any local child support office.
By signing the AOP, the parents are agreeing that the father is the biological and legal father of the baby and that his name should be added to the birth certificate. They agree to waive (give up) their right to genetic testing. They also agree that depending on the circumstances, the father may have to pay child support and provide health insurance and that the child has the right to inherit from the father.
When an unmarried Oklahoma woman gives birth, the law awards her sole custody of the child until a judge issues an order to the contrary. So the parents have to work these matters out for themselves, and if they can’t, they have to go to court and ask a judge to make the decision for them. If both parents don’t understand and agree to all these things, they shouldn’t sign the AOP.
If you have any doubts about whether a child is yours, don’t sign the AOP because once it’s signed, it’s a legally binding document that’s very hard to overturn. Instead, pursue your right to genetic testing so you can find out if there’s a DNA link between you and the child.
III. Going to court?
The second way to establish paternity is by filing a paternity lawsuit, which can be brought to court by either of the parents or a government lawyer for Oklahoma Child Support Services (OCSS). OCSS gets involved when the mother or child received financial assistance through the State of Oklahoma. OCSS is interested in paternity cases because its mission is to make sure that biological parents are providing financial support for their children, but courts can’t order child support unless and until paternity is established.
The parties can settle the case at any time or they can go to trial. If they go to trial, the judge will decide whether the alleged father is the baby’s legal and biological father. The judge may order genetic testing if it hasn’t already been performed.
In Oklahoma, genetic testing is performed by a buccal swab, which means a soft swab is rubbed on the inside of the mouth instead of taking blood with a needle. If the alleged father turns out to be the biological father, the judge will order him will to repay OCSS for the cost of the testing.
Ultimately, the judge will issue a final paternity order, which means that paternity has been formally established. This can only happen if the genetic testing results showed a 99% or greater probability of paternity. The court can then also enter an order assessing financial obligations (child and medical support) and make decisions about visitation and custody – where the child will live.
IV. Why Should Either Parent Establish Paternity??
There are a number of reasons why parents should always establish paternity of their child, regardless of whether they live together or have a loving relationship:
- If the father and mother live together, child support is unlikely to be an issue. But if they don’t, the father and mother may have financial obligations to pay child support, maintain health insurance, and pay medical expenses and educational costs.
- They can help each other financially.
- The parents can work together to make decisions that are best for their child.
- Either parent can go to court and ask for a judge to order a custody and visitation schedule
- By exposing children to both parents and both sides of the family, parents bond more closely with their children from a young age and give them a feeling of inclusion and connectedness.
Children also enjoy a wide variety of benefits when paternity is established:
- Your child’s birth certificate will include both parents’ names.
- Your child is guaranteed the ability to access medical histories from both sides of the family.
- A child with a legal father can qualify, through the father, for benefits like Social Security, medical insurance, and other states, federal, and inheritance benefits.
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