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 one is the child's biological mother, having one's name on a child's birth certificate does not necessarily mean they are the child's legal parent. Otherwise, there are a few ways one can become the legal parent of a child:
The presumed parent of a child is someone who has automatically become the legal parent of a child because they were married to or in a civil union with the child's other legal parent.
One must have been married to or in a civil union with the child's other parent within 300 days of the child's birthdate in order to become the presumed parent.
A Voluntary Acknowledgement of Paternity (VAP) is a form that is signed by someone who believes they are the biological parent of a child along with the child's biological mother. 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.
By signing a VAP, one certifies that they believe they are the biological parent of the child. Once a signed VAP is approved by the Department of Family Services (HFS), the signee officially becomes the legal parent of the child.
Both a judge in court and 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 knowledge of the relevant facts of the situation.
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.