- For Attorneys
Unmarried fathers have rights and duties similar to those of married fathers. Couples who are living together but are not married should take steps to ensure that both are recognized as the legal parents. Both parents can be listed on the birth certificate. A parent who is not listed may be able to be added after the birth of a child if the parent contacts the state Bureau of Vital Statistics in which the birth took place. The father will be shown on the birth certificate if he acknowledges paternity when or close in time to the birth, or the court orders the birth certificate to be changed to reflect the father’s name. A father can acknowledge paternity by signing a written admission or voluntary acknowledgment of paternity or paternity may be established by filing a civil lawsuit. A court will not automatically order paternity tests simply because a paternity action has been filed. It will review the petition to determine if there is sufficient information contained therein to warrant or justify the compelling of such a test. If the court orders a paternity test, the mother, child, and alleged father will be tested at a court-designated facility.
In most states, when a child is born to an unmarried mother, if there is no adjudication or registration of paternity, the mother has custody. Even after paternity has been adjudicated or registered, as long as there is no court order on custody, many states presume that the mother has custody of the child. Unmarried parents without custody, however, are entitled to the same visitation rights as divorced parents, absent extraordinary factors such as abuse or domestic violence. Once paternity has been established, a father has the right to seek custody of or visitation with his child. In determining custody issues, the court will generally consider the best interest of the child and may consider such factors as parental unfitness or the potential harm to the child. If the parties cannot agree to visitation rights, the court may be petitioned to request visitation rights. If the parties cannot agree on paternity, custody and child support, they should seek the assistance of an attorney who routinely handles paternity matters.
Parents are legally obligated to provide their children with all the necessities of life. The failure of parents to marry does not affect their responsibility to support their children. If parents are unmarried and cannot agree upon how much each should contribute toward the support of their children, the courts may decide. A court can order one parent to make specified payments to the other for child support. State laws provide that biological parents make all the decisions involving their children, including education, health care, and religious upbringing. Parents are not required to secure the legal right to make these decisions if they are married and are listed on the child's birth certificate. However, if there is disagreement about who has the right to make these decisions courts can decide.
The court may order the father to pay child support and the reasonable expenses of the mother’s pregnancy and confinement. The court may limit the father’s liability for past support of the child to the proportion of the expenses already incurred which the court deems just.