Legal Rights For Unwed Fathers

Written by J. Hirby and Fact Checked by The Law Dictionary Staff  

Statistics suggest that the number of unwed fathers in the U.S. is on the rise. Legal presumptions for these unwed fathers are not the same as they are for married fathers. Accordingly, it's important for dads who aren't married to understand their rights and how to go about potentially establishing greater parental rights.

Establishing Paternity

When a couple is married, the husband is automatically considered as the legal father of a child. However, paternity cannot be legally assumed when the couple is not married. This means that the unwed father has no legal standing in the relationship and may rightfully be barred from visitation and does not have the ability to make decisions regarding the child's care and welfare.

Paternity may be legally established in a number of ways. In an amicable relationship, the father can be present for his child's birth and ensure that his name is recorded on the birth certificate. If this is not possible, the father can fill out the appropriate Voluntary Acknowledgement of Paternity form for the state in which he lives. The mother may contest the father's claim to paternity, in which case the father may seek redress through the state's Child Support Enforcement Division. He may be required to submit to a paternity test to scientifically establish his status as the father.

Custody Rights

Once paternity is established, the unwed father is entitled to the same visitation rights as any other father. Custody rights only become an issue if the father and mother are no longer together. If this happens, then the father should seek advice from a family law attorney and may petition for shared or joint custody. Similar to divorce cases, custody issues can be hotly contested and fraught with emotion. Many unwed fathers will find themselves at a disadvantage as the American court system tends to favor the mother unless she is clearly neglectful or unfit. Nonetheless, many unwed fathers who want to build and maintain a relationship with their child will fight for joint custody.

Child Support

Like custody rights, child support usually only becomes an issue if the parents are no longer together. The amount of child support that the unwed father will pay each month is decided by the court. Once a judge has ordered the child support payments, it becomes an important and required means of support that the father must prioritize in his monthly finances.

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