In all jurisdictions in the United States, the rights of unmarried fathers depend on whether or not he has legally established paternity.
Once paternity has been established, an unmarried father has the same rights as the mother or as a man who is married to the woman when the child was born; by comparison, the rights of unmarried fathers are virtually non-existent unless he has been legally determined to be the father. In most jurisdictions, although a putative, or alleged, father may claim that he is the father of a child, a man who was not married to the mother at the time of birth does not have a legal right to visitation, to make healthcare of school decisions, or to petition for custody unless paternity has been established. At the same time, however, absent a legal determination of paternity, an unmarried father is also not responsible for paying child support.
In family law, the establishment of paternity can is particularly important in the event the child’s mother wishes to surrender the child for adoption against the wishes of the father, or in the establishment of child support.
In order to protect the rights of unmarried fathers, state laws within the United States permit various methods of legally establishing paternity. Many fathers mistakenly believe that simply adding his name to the birth certificate legally establishes paternity. While listing the putative father’s name on the birth certificate is evidence that he may be the father, it is not conclusive evidence of paternity.
Each jurisdiction may have slightly different laws by which paternity may be established; however, there are common methods. Signing a paternity affidavit is generally the easiest way to legally establish paternity. A paternity affidavit is a legal document, signed by both the mother and the putative father, declaring that the putative father is, indeed, the legal father of the child. The affidavit is then filed with the health department and paternity is established. Paternity may also be establish by either the mother or the putative father filing a petition to establish paternity with the appropriate court, upon which the court will order a DNA test to confirm paternity.
Establishing paternity is the best way to protect the rights of unmarried fathers.
Once paternity has been established, the rights of unmarried fathers are the same as any other parent. An unmarried father will then have rights to visitation and decision making for the child in many cases, and he is also responsible for paying child support.