In today's society, more and more children are being born out of wedlock and this raises questions about a father's parental rights. If you are an unmarried father, you may be wondering about your rights and responsibilities towards your children, especially if you are no longer in a romantic relationship with your children's mother – these are extremely valid questions.
When a man is married to a woman, he is automatically presumed to be the legal father upon his child's birth. The law doesn't question his paternity. In contrast, if a child is born to "unmarried parents," the father has no legal rights or responsibilities to his child unless paternity is established. To establish paternity means to decide who a child's "legal father" is.
How is paternity established?
While the laws vary slightly from state to state, generally paternity is established through a voluntary Acknowledgement of Paternity, or through a court order. Here's how these two methods are accomplished:
- Both parents sign the voluntary Acknowledgement of Paternity shortly after the child's birth at the hospital, or
- A paternity action is filed with the court, the court orders a DNA test and if it's a match, the court names the presumed father as the child's legal father.
Sometimes, a man has no knowledge that he fathered a child, but finds out months, if not years after the child's birth. In this case, he would want to initiate a paternity action with the court.
Sometimes, a woman names a man as the father of her baby, but the man is not 100% sure. In these situations, the presumed father should have an attorney file a paternity action so his DNA can be compared to the child's DNA.
What are your rights as an unwed father? Without a signed Acknowledgement of Paternity, or without a court order saying that you are the legal father, you will have zero rights and responsibilities towards your child, even if you are certain you are the biological father.
Once paternity is established through a paternity action, you will have the right to ask for visitation (and in many states custody), and you will be obligated to pay child support.
To obtain legal representation in a paternity action, contact a family law attorney near you!