The laws in the United States do not discriminate against unmarried parents when it comes to their rights to their children. Both unmarried parents have a responsibility to support their child and put the best interest of the child first. But an unwed father’s rights to custody and child support must first be established by declaring his paternity.
Establishing paternity is key to establishing fatherhood, custody and child support for an unwed father. The mother and father can sign a paternity acknowledgement form. This legally confirms the unwed man as the father of a child. If either parent refuses to sign this form, the mother or the father can go to the State Support Enforcement office and will a paternity petition, which means the court will determine paternity. Usually the court orders a DNA test. If the DNA test confirms the man as the father, the parents then sign the paternity acknowledgement form. If one the parents still refuses to sign, the case will preside to trial. Once paternity is established, custody and child support can be arranged.
All states in the U.S. determine custody of a child based on the best interest of that child, regardless of the parents’ state of marriage. When determining the best interest of the child, the courts will take into account factors such as the child’s preference; the psychological and physiological health of the mother and father; each parent's readiness to foster the child’s relationship with the opposite parent; relationships between each parent and the child; extreme punishment or emotional abuse; and evidence of alcohol, drug, or sexual abuse by either parent.
An unwed mother can not sue a father for child support until paternity is proven. When determining which parent will receive child support, the court will consider each parent’s earnings, the legal custody and visitation agreement and the length of time the child spends in each household.