Back in the days of Ozzie & Harriet, mom wore pearls while vacuuming, all problems were solved in under thirty minutes, and every nuclear family had two parents and 1.8 children. Of course, there was no real question about who 1.8-fathered those children. Sure, they might look a bit like the milkman, but everyone on the block knew that Ozzie was their proud papa.
Much like those 1950s sitcom characters, the State of Utah presumes that a child born to a married woman was fathered by the husband. However, for a child born out of wedlock, the state makes no presumption as to the father’s identity. To understand why, it is helpful to be aware of the distinction between a biological parent and a legal parent. A biological parent is a person who contributed one-half of the chromosomes required to conceive a child and has an obligation to support that child. A legal parent is someone who is officially recognized by the state as having all the rights and responsibilities of the parent-child relationship.
While birth mothers are biological and legal parents to their children by virtue of the fact of the birth itself, paternity of an unwed father is established in one of three ways. First, if the mother and putative father agree that the child is his, they can voluntarily declare the fact of his paternity. Second, either parent may obtain an administrative order from the state declaring the man’s fatherhood. Each of these methods is limited and confers the status of biological parent only. The third option is to obtain a court order of paternity, which, unlike the others, gives an unmarried father the same rights and responsibilities as his married counterpart. This method also provides additional benefits to the child. When a mother disputes a man’s claim to have sired her offspring, or when a father disputes a woman’s claim that he is the one, DNA testing is usually considered the gold standard. If only Michael Jackson hadn’t been too busy lighting up the sidewalk to take a paternity test, Billie Jean would have known if, indeed, the kid was not his son. — This article was written by Attorney Benjamin L. Lawrence at Hepworth & Associates.