NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Welfare Law Encourages Unmarried Fathers To Admit Paternity

June 22, 1999

It was one of the simplest of ideas and it seems to have worked: ask unwed mothers and fathers to declare paternity by signing a form at the hospital when their children are born. That provision of the 1996 welfare reform law -- adapted from a 1993 law -- has tripled the number of fathers acknowledging paternity in out-of-wedlock births over the last six years.

Experts say that fathers are more likely to come forward with that information at the time of a birth than at other times. The procedure is voluntary.

  • The Department of Health and Human Services says the paternity of 1.5 million children was acknowledged or established in 1998 -- compared with 1.3 million in 1997 and 512,000 in 1992.
  • Last year, unmarried fathers admitted paternity of more than 614,000 children through the voluntary in-hospital program that began in 1994.
  • The acknowledgments have increased even though the rate of out-of-wedlock births has declined by 6 percent from its 1994 peak.

Establishing paternity makes it possible to enforce child support, give children health-care coverage under a father's insurance plan, provide surviving children with Social Security benefits when a father dies and ensure visitation and custody rights.

Moreover, experts say, establishing paternity might encourage a father to remain engaged with his child -- even if his relationship with the mother ends.

Source: Susan Page, "Number of Unmarried Fathers Who Accept Paternity Triples," USA Today, June 22, 1999.


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