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The legal issues facing unmarried dads

The National Center for Health Statistics estimates that about 40 percent of all births are to unmarried women in our country.

If you are an unmarried father in Louisiana, you face a variety of legal issues related to your child's paternity. Matters of custody and visitation rights as well as of child support may all be on the line. Establishing the father-child relationship in the eyes of the law ensures things such as inheritance rights, eligibility for public benefits like Social Security and access to family medical information, to say nothing of a possible father-child relationship.

Limited timeframe to act

It cannot be overemphasized how important it is for anyone who wants to either establish or disavow paternity -- or who is being sued in state court for allegations of paternity -- to talk to a lawyer as early as possible. Louisiana laws that govern paternity are extremely complex and the legal options available to a single dad or anyone else involved in a paternity matter vary depending on the factual details of each case.

If you are or were in a loving relationship with the mother of your children, you likely executed official paternity acknowledgements at or shortly after birth. An attorney can advise you how and whether the acknowledgements impact issues of custody, visitation and child support when a relationship ends.

Alternatively, you may not have signed a paternity acknowledgement, but may want to establish paternity and perhaps seek custody or visitation. In this case, you can file an action with the state court to legally establish paternity. The court may, however order genetic testing to establish biological relationships.

Conversely, a mother, or the state in some situations involving child support, may bring a paternity action against you, if she believes you are the father. These are only a few of many possible scenarios.

Paternity actions in Louisiana have deadlines - some of them relatively short - be sure to get legal advice as early as possible to avoid missing any deadlines.

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