According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, during 2012, nearly 41 percent of babies born in the U.S. were born to unwed mothers. These babies were not only born to teen mothers, but also to women in their late 20s and 30s who have a long-term partner to whom they are simply not legally married. Regardless of the circumstance, any man who is not married to the mother of his child is advised to take steps to establish paternity.
When a baby is born to unwed parents, parentage and custody matters are not dictated by biology, but rather legal process. Even unwed fathers who are present at a child’s birth and whose name is included on a child’s birth certificate must take additional legal steps to establish parentage.
When a baby is born to an unwed mother, she is automatically awarded sole legal custody. In order for an unwed father to be legally recognized as a child’s father and gain any child custody or visitation rights, he and the mother must both sign and file a document known as a Recognition of Parentage. In cases where parents disagree on the biological father’s identity, the issue can be settled by obtaining a Court Order to complete genetic testing.
Even in cases where unwed parents are together or have an amicable relationship, fathers are advised to take steps to establish paternity. Much like couples who are married, a relationship between an unwed couple could end or become contentious and a father who failed to establish paternity would have no legal basis to petition a family court for child custody or visitation rights.
Establishing parentage early on in a child’s life can greatly help a father in obtaining child custody and visitation rights in later years. For unwed fathers who are struggling to gain the right to see and spend time with their child, an attorney who handles child custody matters may be able to assist.
Source: Minnesota Judicial Branch, “Basics on Paternity – Being a “Legal” Father,” 2014