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Establishing paternity and fathers' rights in Illinois

There was a time when family courts considered that the best interests of the child could only be preserved by granting custody to the mother. Known as "the Tenders' Doctrine," this practice led to many child custody and visitation cases being settled in favor of the mother, without paying adequate attention to a father's pleas for child custody, even when that father was mentally, physically, emotionally and financially able to care for his child.

Currently, and in time with other sociological changes in American society, fathers' rights have also evolved so that family courts in Illinois consider the best interests of the child when making decisions about child custody and visitation orders. In addition to societal change, federal and state agencies have made various efforts to ensure that fathers' rights are protected, especially when the parents of the child are unmarried.

Over the past several decades, many unmarried fathers have challenged the practice of terminating their parental rights pursuant to the Fourteenth Amendment when the unwed mother of their child placed that child up for adoption without first getting their consent. After a number of similar cases in various U.S. courts, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that an unwed father's parental rights would be protected under the law once that father had established a healthy relationship with his child.

In Illinois, a man is automatically considered to be the legal father of a child who is born when his or her parents are married to each other. A man is also considered to be the legal father if the man married the mother after the child's birth and agreed to be named as father. Another way is to establish paternity for the child by formally acknowledging paternity. It is also possible to establish paternity and be named the legal father if a man voluntarily signs an acknowledgement of paternity.

Source: Children's Bureau, "The Rights of Unmarried Fathers," accessed Feb. 5, 2015

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