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Navigating Complex Child Custody As Unmarried Parents

Becoming a parent is such a thrilling experience — you’re bringing new life to this world. But becoming a parent when unmarried may prompt complications, such as who has custody of your child?

Who Has Parental Rights?

If the parents of a child are unmarried when the child is born, the mother has both full legal and physical custody of the child, even if the father signed the child’s birth certificate. This is much more complicated than if the parents were married when the child was born, as paternity would be assumed. Because at this point, the only parent who is eligible for the parental rights of custody is the mother, the father will need to establish paternity to gain his parental rights of the child.

Even though the father does not have parental rights when the baby is born, it does not mean that the father is unable to see the baby. If the mother approves, the father can visit the child, but will not have decision-making rights for the child.

Establishing Paternity

For paternal rights to be established, an unmarried father will need to establish paternity. This can be done in a variety of ways.

Acknowledgment of Paternity Form

If the parents are unmarried and the father is at the hospital at the time of the child’s birth, he may be presented with an acknowledgment of paternity form by hospital staff. This form does not require proof of paternity, but both the mother and the father must fully complete the form in front of a witness not related to either party. If both parties do not fully fill out the form, it is not valid and cannot be used to establish paternity.

The acknowledgment of paternity form can also be accessed online and mailed to the Department of Vital Records, so it does not need to be completed at the hospital. Completing this form while at the hospital will ensure that the father’s name will be on the child’s birth certificate. If the form is completed after the family leaves the hospital, then the parents will need to request a new copy of the child’s birth certificate so the father’s name can be added.

Genetic Testing

Paternity can also be established through genetic testing of both the father and the child during a paternity case. Genetic testing is an extremely reliable method to determine paternity if paternity is unknown.

If genetic testing is used as a method to establish paternity, the courts will request the suspected father to attend a court hearing and then submit to an oral swab for genetic collection. The suspected father will be sent a copy of the results. If paternity is determined, then the courts will establish parental rights for the father.

Rights to Visitation and Custody

Even after paternity is established, the father of the child does not automatically have child custody or visitation rights. For a father to gain those rights, he will need to hire a child custody attorney and request the court for child custody or visitation with the child.

If the parents are in a relationship but not married, they will have to determine how they wish to seek custody and if they wish to do so jointly.

Seeking Child Support

If the parents of a child are unmarried when the child is conceived or born, then the mother will not be able to seek child support until after paternity is established. After paternity is determined through the filing of an acknowledgment of paternity form or through a paternity case and genetic testing, the mother will then be able to seek child support with the help of a child custody attorney.

Norman Child Custody Attorney

Our child custody attorney at Redhawk Law can answer all of your questions about establishing paternity or seeking spousal support as an unmarried parent. Our family law attorney has over 25 years of experience helping families form legal connections.

If you are an unmarried parent seeking to establish parental rights or seek child support, call our Norman child custody attorney at (405) 266-5072 or contact us online to set up a consultation. We offer same-day consultations.

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