Unmarried Parents’ Rights

Becoming a parent is an exciting time.  Helping a child grow can be one of the most rewarding life experiences for a person.  When the parents are married, the law presumes that the husband is the biological father of the child.  That father needs to take no further steps to establish his rights to the child.  When the parents are unmarried, however, the rights of each parent are different than if the parents had been married at the time of the child’s birth.

When a child is born to an unmarried couple, the biological father does not have any automatic right to the child, as would be the case if the biological father was married to the mother.  Instead, the father must take specific steps to establish his rights.  The most straightforward way is to sign a Recognition of Parentage, which is a document signed by both the mother and father acknowledging the father is the biological father.  The document is then signed by the state.  Note, however, that the Recognition of Parentage does not immediately grant the biological father joint custody, either legal or physical.  Instead, it means that the father has the right to file a petition with the court asking for such an order to be established.

As an alternative to filing a Recognition of Parentage, an unmarried father may file a request to establish paternity with the court.  The court can order genetic testing to be performed to determine if the father really is the biological father.  After the court enters an order establishing that the father is the legal father, the court may proceed to enter an order establishing custody and a parenting schedule.

The mother has specific rights if she is not married to the biological father.  Like the father, the mother has the right to bring a case to establish paternity.  The court can order the father to appear and submit to genetic testing.  The mother may also seek to have an order for child support set.  Unless and until the father seeks and obtains an order providing for specific parenting time, the mother is the one who can determine visitation.  This leads some mothers to decide to deny the father any contact at all until a court rules otherwise.  This strategy can often backfire, however.  One of the factors a court will consider when trying to decide custody and parenting time is whether each parent has shown a desire to cooperate with the other parent to facilitate a relationship between the child and the other parent.

We have extensive experience helping our clients with all types of custody and parenting time cases. Call us today at 651-413-9568 to talk about your children.