How to Establish Paternity in Illinois

In Illinois, a form filled out in the hospital is the easiest way for unmarried partners to establish paternity. But if you can’t complete this step, plenty of options exist. You could work through the courts or the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services to establish paternity as well.

How do I legally establish paternity in Illinois? 

Per Illinois law, babies born to married partners automatically have established paternity. But babies born into families without a recognized marriage don’t have the same status. 

Three solutions exist to legally establish paternity in Illinois. 

1. Voluntary acknowledgment of paternity 

A Voluntary Acknowledgment of Paternity (VAP) form is one of the quickest and easiest ways to establish a child’s legal paternity. Both parents must complete the document, and they must sign it in front of a witness who’s at least 18 years old and not related to the parents. 

Signing this document can mean giving up some rights. For example, a signed VAP eliminates your right to ask for a genetic test. Even if you submit DNA later and it proves you’re not the biological parent, you won’t be able to undo the VAP if more than 60 days have passed. 

A VAP is the quickest, least expensive, and most efficient way to establish a child’s paternity. But don’t sign this document unless you’re sure of the blood relation between parent and child. 

2. Administrative paternity order 

Per Illinois law, both parents are required to support their children financially. You can establish paternity and child support payments simultaneously by working through the State of Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services. 

Start an application online. The Department will then take the following steps:

  • Search for the other parent 
  • Establish paternity 
  • Develop a child support order
  • Enforce that order, including withholding wages from the father’s employer

Going through the Department is relatively easy. You’ll fill out an application and then just wait for the team to do the necessary work. Notably, the time frame for enforcement can be very long. If you’re in a hurry to establish paternity, this may not be a good option for you. 

3. Order of paternity 

A formal Court Order of Paternity is an official document signed by a judge at the end of a trial. 

A court case involves the following steps:

  1.  Fill out and sign a Mother’s Petition, a Notice to Presumed Parent, and a Parentage Summons
  2.  File the documents with the Circuit Court in your county. Typically, you must file these papers electronically. 
  3.  Serve your partner by giving a copy of the paperwork to the sheriff to serve. Ask the sheriff to fill out and file a Proof of Service document when the task is complete. 
  4.  Prepare an Order for Parentage and Allocation of Parental Responsibilities form by putting both names at the top of the document.
  5.  Attend a hearing in front of a judge, who will decide your case. 

You’ll obtain a Court Order of Paternity at the end of your case. Go to the clerk and ask for a certified copy. Then, complete an Affidavit and Certificate of Correction Request and sign it in front of a notary public. Send these documents and a $15 check to the Illinois Department of Public Health.

Establishing paternity in various situations

Paternity cases in Illinois aren’t always straightforward. Let’s examine several different scenarios so you can understand what paternity solution might be right for you. 

Scenario 1: The mother and father agree

Sign a Voluntary Acknowledgment of Paternity at the hospital when the baby is born. You can also choose to complete the form later and mail it to the Department of Healthcare and Family Services. If both parties agree on the paternity case, there’s no need to get the help of an outside party. This is generally a straightforward and easy-to-resolve situation.

Scenario 2: The parents disagree

If the father denies the mother’s claim about parentage, missed child support payments could be on the line. The mother could ask for an administrative paternity order. Less paperwork and hassle are required, and it’s easier than going to court. 

Scenario 3: The parents aren’t married 

Sign a Voluntary Acknowledgment of Paternity at the hospital when the baby is born. If that’s not possible, complete the form later, and mail it to the Department of Healthcare and Family Services. This step ensures that the father’s rights are preserved. 

What methods can prove paternity?

Illinois laws allow courts to order a DNA test to establish paternity. If the court demands this test and the other party won’t comply, the court could settle the case without it. The father who won’t submit samples will be officially determined as the child’s father. 

The State of Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services uses lawyers when you file paperwork for child support payments. The same rules apply, including those about denying a required DNA test.

Typically, genetic tests are painless. The potential father submits a small tissue sample (like a swab from the cheek). A tiny sample from the baby is collected as well. Those tissues will head to a licensed testing facility to determine a match. 

Why is establishing paternity important?

Per Illinois law, both parents are obligated to support their children. Establishing paternity ensures that the father makes regular contributions to the health and welfare of his children. 

Experts say establishing paternity is also important for the following reasons:

  • It preserves a father’s legal rights.
  • It allows the father’s name to be added to legal documents, like a child’s birth certificate.
  • It allows medical information (like genetic propensity for disease) to be shared between a father and child.
  • It preserves a child’s access to a father’s financial assets, such as Social Security benefits, veteran’s benefits, and inheritance.

New parents have plenty to do. It’s easy to skip the paternity step when you’re busy with things like feedings and diaper changes. But this legal requirement ensures that a child’s and father’s rights and responsibilities are preserved. It’s worth the effort to take this step early to avoid later problems.

How long does it take to establish paternity in Illinois?

Time frames to establish paternity in Illinois vary dramatically, depending on the solution you choose to establish paternity. 

If you fill out a VAP form in the hospital when the child is born, this step takes just minutes. If you go to court, the process takes longer. If you use the State of Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services, the process might take even longer. 

How much does it cost to establish paternity?

Just as time frames can vary by the solution you choose, so can your costs. Filling out a VAP in the hospital costs nothing at all. Using the State of Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services costs nothing, too. 

If you go to court and initiate the process, you’ll be responsible for genetic test costs. Those prices can range from $400 to $2,000, depending on the testing method required. In general, tests done before the baby is born are more expensive than those completed after the birth. 

Working in a courtroom can also mean paying a filing fee. It varies from courtroom to courtroom. In the Southern District, for example, a typical filing fee for these types of cases is $402. 

If your case goes to court, you may have fees associated with lawyers and expert witnesses. Taking time away from work can cost you, too. And, at the end of a successful case, you’ll need to add the father to a birth record for a $15 fee. 

These costs can add up. But know that a successful case can mean getting child support payments from the father, which could make your hard work worthwhile. 

Frequently asked questions about establishing paternity in Illinois

How long does a father have to establish paternity in Illinois?

Paternity is designed to connect a child and parent. A father must prove paternity before the child reaches 20 years old. 

Does signing a birth certificate establish paternity?

A birth certificate does not automatically establish paternity if the two parties aren’t married. If the two parties agree, it’s best to complete a VAP to make the connection official. 

How do I establish paternity if the father is deceased?

These cases are complex. If you can get a tissue sample from the father’s body (such as nail clippings or hair), that could be part of a DNA test. If that isn’t available, you could work with the father’s close family members (like a parent or sibling) to get samples. 

How do I establish paternity if the father is in another state?

All of the steps we’ve outlined will work in cases where the parent doesn’t live within the state. The mother must live in Illinois, but the father could live almost anywhere. Cases are easier when the mother has a known address for the potential father, as less research will be required. 


750 ILCS 46: Illinois Parentage Act of 2015. Illinois General Assembly. 
Voluntary Acknowledgment of Parentage or VAP Basics. (February 2023). Illinois Legal Aid Online. 
Applying to HFS IV-D Services for Help Getting Child Support. (May 2020). Illinois Legal Aid Online.
Starting a Case for Parentage in Court. (June 2020). Illinois Legal Aid Online. 
State of Illinois Affidavit and Certificate of Correction Request Instructions. State of Illinois. 
Starting a Case for Parentage Through DHFS. (May 2020). Illinois Legal Aid Online. 
Paternity, Child Support, Parenting Class. Nineteenth Judicial Circuit Court, Lake County, Illinois. 
DNA Paternity Test. American Pregnancy Association. 
Required Fees. Illinois Department of Public Health. 
Fee Schedule. Southern District of Illinois.
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