A child's legal parent possesses unique rights and responsibilities. For example, only the legal parent of a child can be required to make or receive payments for a child support order. Being the child's legal parent means one's parentage (paternity) has been legally established.
Unless you're the child's biological mother, having your name on a child's birth certificate does not necessarily mean you are that child's legal parent. There are a few ways through which a person can become the legal parent of a child:
1. Becoming the Presumed Parent through a marriage or civil union
When a child is born to two people in a marriage or civil union, both parents will automatically become the legal parent of that child. This is called being the presumed parent.
To be considered a presumed parent, a person must have been married to or in a civil union with the child's biological mother within 300 days of the child's birthdate.
2. By signing a Voluntary Acknowledgement of Paternity (VAP)
A Voluntary Acknowledgement of Paternity (VAP) is a form that is signed by someone who believes they are the biological parent of a child. The VAP is typically presented at the hospital if a person is with the child's biological mother at the time of childbirth, so long as the two are not married. A VAP must also be signed by the child's biological mother.
By signing a VAP, the signor agrees to have their parent-child relationship established with the child. Additionally, the signor of a VAP must give up their right to request a DNA test with the child.
Once a signed VAP is approved by the Department of Family Services (HFS), the signor will officially become the legal parent of the child.
3. Through a judge in court or an administrative order
Both a judge in court as well as the Department of Family Services have the authority to declare someone to be the legal parent of a child(s). This process is typically referred to as an adjudication of parentage.
The decision to declare someone the legal parent of a child or not may be based on DNA testing. Or, the decision can be made solely based on knowledge of the relevant facts of the situation.
4. Through a legally valid Gestational Surrogacy Agreement
A gestational surrogacy agreement refers to an agreement in which the biological mother of a child – the surrogate – agrees to place their child in the care of another caretaker, called the intended parent.
If the surrogacy agreement is legally valid, the intended parent(s) would become the legal parent of the child(s) born to the surrogate.