Study of Fathers’ Involvement in Permanency Planning and Child Welfare Casework . What barriers do fathers face in establishing paternity?


Perhaps the most significant barrier to the establishment of paternity is currently the lack of standardization among states in accomplishing this process. In some states, a simple civil process referred to as a voluntary paternity acknowledgement is utilized (Office of Inspector General, 2000a). This method is often implemented in-hospital, but is also used in child support offices, vital records offices, and other social service agency settings (Office of Inspector General, 2000a). In 1999, this paternity establishment method was cited as being used in 45 states (National Conference of State Legislatures, 1999).

States may also utilize other administrative and judicial establishment methods, using varying levels of court involvement (See Exhibit 2). Administrative methods usually rely on the actions of the child support agency, with limited court involvement (Office of the Inspector General, 2000b). Twenty-five states use quasi-administrative paternity establishment practices (Office of the Inspector General, 2000b). In these cases, mutual parental consent is often combined with genetic testing, referred to as “Agreed Orders” or “Consent Agreements” (Office of the Inspector General, 2000b). In some cases, the only administrative method that states utilize is the voluntary paternity acknowledgement discussed above. Additionally, practices surrounding the use of genetic tests, level of judicial involvement, and time frames for acknowledgement and rescinding paternity differ by jurisdiction. Practices have been found to differ not only between states, but also within states, counties, and by particular cases within counties (Office of the Inspector General, 2000b).

Exhibit 2
Use of Paternity Establishment Methods by State, 2000
State Administ/ Quasi-Judicial Judicial/Quasi Judicial State Administ/ Quasi-Judicial Judicial/Quasi Judicial
Alabama   X Montana X  
Alaska X   Nebraska X  
Arizona X   Nevada   X
Arkansas X        New Hampshire X  
California   X New Jersey X  
Colorado X   New Mexico X  
Connecticut   X New York   X
Delaware X   North Carolina   X
District of Columbia   X North Dakota X  
Florida   X Ohio X  
Georgia   X Oklahoma   X
Hawaii   X Oregon X  
Idaho X   Pennsylvania   X
Illinois X   Rhode Island   X
Indiana X   South Carolina   X
Iowa   X South Dakota   X
Kansas X   Tennessee   X
Kentucky   X Texas   X
Louisiana   X Utah   X
Maine X   Vermont   X
Maryland X   Virginia X  
Massachusetts X   Washington X  
Michigan   X Wisconsin   X
Mississippi   X Wyoming   X
Missouri X        
Source: Office of the Inspector General, 2000.

Judicial paternity establishment methods are utilized in approximately 26 states (Office of the Inspector General, 2000b). These typically involve the naming of a putative father through a judicial hearing, utilizing genetic testing (Office of Inspector General, 2000b). Court appearances by one or both parents may be required, with actual testimony in some cases. The level of judicial involvement and authority in paternity establishment practices varies by state, locality and caseload (Office of the Inspector General, 2000b).

The variation in the methods utilized to establish paternity as well as the variation in specific practices, timelines, and other requirements found within and across jurisdictions are likely to cause confusion among both prospective and new parents. Additionally, it is quite possible that states have varying levels of success in communicating these methods to the general public. Among those who have gained awareness, navigating the system may be difficult. The complexity of the paternity establishment process for fathers can pose a significant barrier to parental involvement with children.

Since the establishment of paternity usually results in mandated payment of child support, fathers’ unwillingness or inability to pay child support may be another barrier to establishing paternity or getting divorced fathers involved in case planning (Pons-Bunney, 1998). Certainly non-custodial fathers who cannot pay child support could be involved in their children’s lives in other ways. For example, a parent who cannot afford to contribute financial resources may be willing to contribute in other forms of non-financial support. In some cases, fathers may prefer to provide informal financial support outside of the child support system (Office of the Inspector General, 1999; Waller & Plotnick, 2001). Some have argued that this is likely if the formal payments go towards state reimbursement for the mother’s financial assistance rather than to the child and mother directly (Office of Inspector General, 1999). Thus, potential involvement in the child support system may act as a barrier in the establishment of paternity among fathers.