Wyoming mothers and fathers should understand the paternity laws followed by the state, especially when they are unmarried as the state treats unmarried parents differently from married parents. Men can establish paternity in one of several ways under Wyoming law. An unmarried man who has established paternity may be more successful in protecting his parental rights in the event of an adoption initiated by the child's mother or in a custody dispute.
Putative Fathers in Wyoming Law
Section 1-22-101 of the Wyoming Statutes Annotated contains legal definitions relevant to paternity rights under state law. According to the statute, a putative father is any man who is "alleged or reputed" to be the father of a child born outside of a legal marriage. The statute does not distinguish between men who have obtained a court judgment of paternity and men who have not---Wyoming law refers to all fathers of children born out of wedlock as putative fathers. The law specifically identifies putative fathers because they must take additional steps to enforce their parental rights; married parents who have children born to them during marriage generally have parental rights unless a Wyoming court has terminated those rights.
Ways to Establish Paternity
Putative fathers can take specific steps to establish paternity of their children and protect their parental rights in Wyoming. Unmarried parents can meet the state requirements to establish paternity set forth in the Wyoming Parentage Act by both signing an Affidavit Acknowledging Paternity and returning the form to the Wyoming Office of Vital Records. A man who believes he is a child's father, but who is not married to the child's mother, can independently submit his information to the Wyoming Putative Fathers Registry. The registry serves as a record of his efforts to identify himself as the child's father. A putative father can also open a parentage case in Wyoming to obtain a court order confirming his paternity. Additionally, if a putative father lives with the child's mother or marries her after the birth of the child, his action may be sufficient to protect his paternity rights against proceedings for adoption or termination of parental rights.
Parental Rights of Putative Fathers
Married fathers, unlike putative fathers, can protect their parental rights in divorce proceedings if they separate from their children's mothers. Putative fathers who establish paternity of their children in Wyoming can assert their parental rights in custody disputes, adoption proceedings and other court actions that may affect their parental rights. To obtain a court order for child custody or visitation rights, a putative father may open a paternity or parentage case in the Wyoming state courts. If the court determines he has proved his paternity, he can request an "Order Establishing Child Custody and Visitation" from the court. The court order will state whether a father has sole custody of his child or shared custody with the child's mother. Without first addressing the issue of paternity, a putative father cannot generally enforce his custody and visitation rights through a court order.
Rights in Wyoming's Adoption Laws
Wyoming law limits the right of a father to prevent his child's adoption unless he has already established parental rights under state law. According to section 1-22-109 of the Wyoming Statutes Annotated, a putative father must receive notice of a pending adoption. If the child's mother states that she does not know the father's identity, the court must investigate whether a man filed with the Wyoming Putative Fathers Registry; if he did register, the court must notify him of the adoption and provide him with an opportunity to decide whether he would like to end his parental rights.