In Maryland, when a married couple has a baby, both parents are automatically the legal parents of the child. The husband is presumed to be the father unless proven otherwise and the longer a husband waits to contest the paternity of the child, the less likely the court will grant his request to challenge the paternity. Maryland does not have the same rule for unmarried couples.
When unmarried couples have a baby, only the mother is automatically recognized as a legal parent. This means that the father and the baby will miss out on important benefits and obligations of the parent-child relationship unless further action is taken.
Most of the time, unmarried couples choose to sign the Affidavit of Parentage at the hospital or birthing center. An affidavit is a sworn statement, so the mother and father will have to sign it in the presence of official witnesses.
The Affidavit of Parentage states the following:
- the parents agree that the father is the biological and legal father of the baby.
- the father’s name is added to the birth certificate
- the father may have to pay child support and the child has the right to inherit from the father.
- Custody rights stay with the mother.
- the father earns the right to go to court and ask for a new custody and visitation schedule.
If you have any doubts about paternity, don’t sign the affidavit because once it’s signed, it’s a legally binding document that’s very hard to overturn. Instead, pursue your right to genetic testing. You also have the right to talk to a lawyer before you sign anything. If you want to look at a copy of the affidavit, call the Maryland Department of Health & Mental Hygiene, Division of Vital Records, at 410-764-3182, and they will send you one.
A paternity action can be brought to court by either parent or by a government lawyer for the local office of the Child Support Enforcement Agency (CSEA), which usually gets involved because the mother or child has received financial assistance through the State of Maryland. CSEA is interested in paternity cases because its mission is to make sure that biological parents are providing financial support for their children.