Featured News 2018 The Rights of an Unmarried Father

The Rights of an Unmarried Father

Children are born to unwed parents every day in the United States.

The Center for Disease and Control and Prevention reports that 41 percent of all babies born in America are born to unmarried parents. In these cases, unmarried mothers are usually given sole physical and legal custody of their child at the beginning of the baby's life.

Obviously, a mother does not have to argue about whether or not a newborn is actually hers. For men, however, it's not so black-and-white.

Paternity: When It's Assumed & When It Needs Confirmation

Being unmarried doesn't mean that fathers don't have any legal rights—there are a number of cases where the state assumes paternity. However, that assumption sometimes isn't reliant on black-and-white evidence, as you'll see.

Paternity is assumed for an unwed father when:
  • The parents marry after the child is born (and sign a legitimation form)
  • Both parents sign an acknowledgement of paternity (or a similar agreement)
  • The father attempts to marry the mother shortly after conception or birth
  • The father agrees to have his name put on the birth certificate
  • The father agrees to financially support the child

Two circumstances deserve special mention, as they're not actually legal maneuvers. If a man welcomes a child into his home and openly states that the child is his own, or if the child and the father have a close parent/child relationship, the state will presume that he is the father.

Why Would a Father Need Legal Paternity?

Some mothers put their babies up for adoption shortly after birth, even when the presumed father protests it. The Supreme Court has ruled that the constitutional protection of a father's rights may be invoked if he has a substantial relationship with his child (or has won assumed paternity). If an unwed father fails to meet any of the requirements listed above, then there is nothing he can do—his right to determine the baby's future is the same as any other person on the street.

The other reasons that a father may want to declare parentage include:
  • Right to be notified of child's court proceedings
  • Right to be notified of all petitions for adoption
  • Right to be notified if the mother attempts to terminate his parental rights
  • Right to court-appointed visitation—a father can even claim legal paternity to retroactively get the parenting time he lost.
  • Right to court-ordered vacation or holiday time
  • Right to be notified if the child's mother wants to move out of state
  • Right to be notified when someone is given temporary custody of the child

Who Counts as a "Father" Anyway?

It might be a simple question, but there's no clear definition of what a father is (legally-speaking).

According to the Child Welfare Department, there is no standard definition for the word 'father' in the United States. Some states will recognize a "putative father" as a man who is alleged to be that child's biological father and has a relationship with a child that has not been legally established. Putative fathers are not married to the mother of the child or were not married to that woman at the time of the child's birth.

In 22 states, putative fatherhood is based on a series of qualifications.

First of all, if the man was married to the child's mother, and the child is born in the marriage, or within 300 days after the marriage ended, then he is assumed to be the father. In the event that a man and woman attempted to marry but the marriage was declared invalid, and the child is born during the marriage or 300 days after the marriage is terminated, then a man can claim fatherhood. If he consented to be listed the father on his child's birth certificate, has acknowledged his paternity in writing, or has committed to financially supporting the child, then many states will recognize this as proof for parentage. 22 states will recognize fatherhood if a child lived with the claimant as a minor and he claims biological fatherhood. Genetic testing can also help to clarify parentage issues when other methods fail.

Registered unmarried fathers are given the same responsibility as a married father, including financial obligations for the child, and a role in the child's upbringing. To get more information about your rights and responsibilities as an unmarried father, contact a family law attorney.

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