I would never call myself a “fathers’ rights lawyer” or “mothers’ rights lawyer.” I believe the firms that do that are really just trying to scare you in to hiring them. A lawyer either fights for you or they don’t. Tricking somebody in to thinking you have a passion for your work isn’t the way to do things.
But I do call it like I see it. Sometimes that means telling a client that they are wrong even though it’s not what they want to hear. Other times it involves pointing out a law that is incredibly unfair, even if it makes me sound like I’m just stumping for fathers.
That said, the law in Illinois with respect to voluntary acknowledgement of paternity is terrible and needs to be changed. If a man signs the birth certificate of a child and acknowledges that he is the father, he has 60 days in which he can rescind that. So if you’ve been dating a girl for two years and she gets pregnant, if you sign assuming you are the father, that means that you are legally the father. This is true if (as happened to a caller to my office) five years later you have a paternity test done and learn that you aren’t really the biological Dad. So you can end up paying child support for a child that isn’t yours.
Once sixty days has passed, the only way to vacate signing is to file a 2-1401 petition on the limited grounds of fraud, duress, or material mistake of fact. That’s a lot harder than it sounds and it must be filed within two years from the date you originally signed. Duress would be something like a gun was placed to your head. Fraud could be a faked paternity test.
The safest thing to do is never sign in the first place without a paternity test. That doesn’t sound very romantic, but sometimes the smart thing isn’t romantic or even easy.
Beyond this all though, the law needs to be changed. Why should you have to support a child that isn’t yours? It literally makes no sense and I can’t think of one argument in favor of it. I have no problem not letting the mistaken Dad recoup the money he’s laid out over the years by mistake. As I said, you should get a paternity test so that’s on him. But once you do learn the truth, you should be off the hook.
In the worst examples I’ve seen some men have to support a child that isn’t theirs while the real father lives with the kid and doesn’t contribute hardly anything. It’s just wrong and needs to stop. We should have the ability to take laws that make no sense and change them. This one needs to be at the top of the list.