Mothers and fathers have different rights depending upon whether they are married when a child is born. If the parents are not married, in Indiana it is very important for them to establish paternity as soon as the child is born. Paternity is important for addressing child custody and support issues.
In Indiana, when parents are married, they have equal rights to the child. However, if the mother is unmarried when she gives birth, she is automatically the only legal custodian. In those circumstances, only a court can alter that presumption by approving a father’s petition for custody or visitation.
A man is automatically the legal father of a child if he is married to the child’s mother at the time of conception or birth. If the alleged father is not married to the child’s mother, paternity must be established in order for the father to have any rights to his child. Parents can establish paternity by signing a paternity affidavit within 72 hours of the child’s birth. The hospital can provide the affidavit, which must be signed by both parents. The affidavit can also be requested from the parents’ local health department at any time after the child’s birth. In that case, paternity will be effective 60 days after the form is signed and filed with the State Department of Health. If paternity is in dispute, a court will issue a ruling after a genetic test is completed. Once paternity has been established, the father has the right to custody and visitation. At that time though, he will also be required to pay child support to the child’s mother.
When a father has the right to seek custody of his child, he and the child’s mother have an equal right to custody. The Indiana court will not give a preference to either parent based on gender. Instead, a court decides custody using the “best interests of the child” factors, including whether there are any incidents of domestic violence or child abuse; the child’s relationship with each parent; each parent’s health; the child’s health; the child’s age and gender; the child’s preference; and the parents’ requests, especially where they agree that they will share joint custody. If parents want joint custody, a court will also consider the home environment each parent can offer, whether the child has a strong bond with both parents, the distance between each parent’s residence and whether either parent plans to relocate and whether the parents will be able to cooperate in making decisions regarding the child’s upbringing.