In North Carolina, when a couple is married, the man is automatically considered the legal father of any children. Unmarried fathers, however, have no rights to their children until paternity is established.
If a father wants custody of, or visitation with his child, he must sign a declaration of paternity and file it with the child support agency in his county. If the mother denies paternity, the father must take a DNA test. A court will name the man as the legal father if the test shows at least a 97 percent probability that he is the biological father.
When deciding custody, North Carolina courts cannot give a preference to either parent based on gender. Mothers and fathers have an equal right to custody.
A court issues a custody order based on the best interests of the child. Factors considered include each parent's financial situation and work schedule, each parent's home and whether it is suitable for a child, each parent's ability to care for the child and the child's preference.
If the mother is named as the custodial parent, the unmarried father has the right to exercise liberal visitation, convenient to the child and parents' schedules. The father and child can also communicate by email, telephone or web cam.