Public policy asserts that paternity establishment is important for a child's emotional and financial well-being. Statutory and case law permit three mechanisms to establish paternity: marriage, legal voluntary paternity acknowledgement, and by lawsuit with genetic testing. Although the processes are relatively simple for adults, adolescent parents have several issues which complicate the legal establishment of paternity. These include maturity and the need for minors to have parental permission to marry, file a lawsuit, or sign a voluntary acknowledgement. Despite these concerns, it is important to identify a child's father within the first two years of life when he might be more accessible and early attachments form. States should consider the rights, challenges, and responsibilities of minor parents, babies, and grandparents when developing paternity policies. This report reviews statistics about teen sex and pregnancy and recommends that states enact stricter rules for teens aged 15 and younger than middle teens (age 16 and 17) and adults (age 18 and older). Court oversight will ensure that the young people will be protected when they disagree with their parents about appropriate action. For example, states should require court approval for marriage of young teens to prevent forced marriage or to identify cases of incest or statutory rape. In addition, states should permit minors age 16 or 17 to sue or sign voluntary acknowledgements without parental permission. Genetic tests should be required before state acceptance of an acknowledgement. Youth also should have an opportunity to rescind an acknowledgement within a specified period of time. 79 notes.
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