With the number of children being born out of wedlock continuing to rise, unmarried fathers who are seeking custody will need to know their rights when it comes to their children. Understanding these rights will help you ensure you can continue to develop your relationship with your child.
How unmarried fathers can establish paternity
When parents are not married, the father must establish paternity legally in order to claim his father’s rights. While this is automatically assumed when couples are married, unmarried fathers must follow one of several routes to determining paternity. These include:
• Being there during birth and helping fill out the birth certificate information with the mother
• Filling out a Voluntary Acknowledgement of Paternity form
• Speaking with the state’s Child Support Enforcement Division or petitioning the state’s court for paternity if the mother is questioning the father’s rights
In cases where paternity is contested by the mother, the father will need to prove paternity by taking a paternity test. This can be ordered by the court.
An unmarried father’s right to custody
Once paternity is established, an unmarried father has the right to custody or visitation. Depending on the case, an unmarried father who is not in a romantic relationship with the child’s mother can petition for shared or joint custody or for visitation rights. The parents may be able to work together to design a parenting plan that can be approved by the court. In situations where the mother is deemed unfit to take care of the child, the father may petition for sole custody.
Depending on your situation, you might be able to establish paternity and claim your rights without any challenges. However, if the mother contests your paternity, you might consider speaking with a family law attorney to assist you in the process.