When a child is born to married parents, there is an automatic legal relationship between the child and the husband of the mother; and the father's name will appear on the birth certificate.
When a child is born to unmarried parents, there is no automatic legal relationship between the father and the child. The biological father's name will not be placed on the birth certificate without filling out an Acknowledgment of Paternity (AOP). This is called paternity establishment, and it establishes the biological father as the legal father.
A mother and father can voluntarily sign an Acknowledgment of Paternity (AOP) form any time before the child turns 18. Establishing paternity is easy and free. The process is available to parents if the mother was not married at the time of birth or if the biological father is someone other than the mother's current spouse.
Both parents must sign and have their signature witnessed and notarized by a Notary Public. No blood test is required. Birthing hospitals will provide information about and help completing the process before the mother and baby leave the hospital. AOP forms are also available through the Arkansas Department of Health, and any local Office of Child Support Enforcement.
If the mother was married to someone other than the biological father at the time of birth, an AOP can be completed by the mother, husband/ex-husband, and the biological father. If the AOP is completed at the time of birth, the biological father’s name will appear on the birth certificate.
If a birth certificate is filed with Vital Records without a father's name, and later the mother and the biological father want to complete the AOP, the parents can go to the Vital Records office and complete the AOP. The birth certificate will be amended showing the father's name. There is a space on the AOP that allows for the change of the child's last name.
Either parent may change their mind about signing the AOP by completing a form and filing it with the Office of Vital Records within 60 days from the date of the last notarized signature. Rescission forms are available at the Department of Health Vital Records Office.
2. Judicial Establishment of Paternity
Either parent may file a petition with the court to establish parentage of the child. The court will enter an order finding the man to be the father of the child and may address issues such as child support, custody and visitation. This process usually requires the help of an attorney.
If a mother applies for OCSE services for child support and paternity has not been established, the agency will take steps to establish paternity. If a putative father denies that he is the father, OCSE will give him an opportunity to agree to genetic testing and schedule the testing. If the putative father does not respond to OCSE’s attempts to contact or denies paternity and does not participate in testing, a complaint with be filed with the court to establish paternity and an order for child support. Genetic testing may be ordered by the court.
If genetic testing finds that a putative father is not the biological father, the mother may be responsible for the court cost and the cost of genetic testing. If the mother is receiving cash assistance, there are no fees charged. If genetic testing finds the putative father is the biological father, he may be responsible for court costs and the cost of genetic testing.
If paternity of a child has been established by court order or an AOP, you should consult with an attorney regarding your options. OCSE does not provide services related to disestablishment of paternity.
What if we agree to sign the form, but there is doubt who the father is?
If either parent is not sure, they should not sign the Acknowledgment of Paternity form. A paternity test, which is sometimes referred to as a genetic test, is recommended. For more information about paternity, contact your local child support agency.
What will the genetic test show?
The genetic test will show if a man is NOT the biological father of a child. Or the test may show that it is almost certain, 99% or more, that a man is the father of the child.
If we sign the Acknowledgment of Paternity now, can we change our minds later?
Yes. Persons signing an AOP may change their minds and rescind their acknowledgment if done within 60 days. To do this, contact the Division of Vital Records at 1-800-637-9314 and request a rescission form. Complete the form and file it with the Division of Vital Records before any administrative or judicial proceedings take place, or within 60 days from the date the AOP is signed, whichever comes first. After 60 days, the only way to change the legal father of the child is to file a motion with the court. A motion must be based on a claim that the AOP was signed due to fraud (someone lied in signing the document), duress (you were forced to sign), or material mistake of fact (you thought one thing and another thing is true).
Will the father's name be on the baby's birth certificate?
If unmarried parents sign the AOP from at the hospital when the baby is born, the father's name will be shown on the baby's birth certificate. The parents must tell the hospital staff what name they want for their child. If the mother agrees, the baby can have the father's last name.
Do the parents have to be in Arkansas to acknowledge paternity?
No. If the child was born in Arkansas, the parents may sign the AOP form in front of a notary public and then mail it to the address on the cover of the form.
What about child support and government assistance?
Signing the AOP does not initiate child support or government assistance services. You must do this on your own. If child support services are needed, the custodial party can contact an attorney or apply to the Arkansas Office of Child Support Enforcement where a copy of the AOP form will be on file. If government assistance is needed, such as TEA or Medicaid, the mother must cooperate with OCSE to establish paternity in order to qualify for benefits.
If we sign the AOP, does the father have the right to visit or ask for custody?
Signing the AOP does not automatically give the father the right to visitation or custody. The father may use the form to ask the court to establish these rights. If the parents are in agreement, either parent may ask the court for an order to establish their rights to visitation or custody. Parents should ask their attorney about the law.
What will it cost the parents?
There is no charge to the parents for signing the AOP. The Department of Vital Records charges a fee for amending (changing) a birth certificate.
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