Table of Contents:
- Rights of Unmarried Fathers in Missouri
- Rights of Unmarried Fathers in Ohio
- Unmarried Father's Rights in Georgia
- Unmarried Father's Rights in Arkansas
- Rights of Unmarried Fathers in Mississippi
- Unmarried Father's Rights in Michigan
- About Unmarried Father's Rights in California
An unmarried father can establish his paternity of a child using two methods. If neither parent disputes the child's paternity, they can voluntarily sign an Affidavit Acknowledging Paternity provided by the hospital at the time of birth. Parents don't have to sign this form at the hospital. They can secure the form from the Bureau of Vital Records or the Family Support Division-Child Support Enforcement any time after the birth, no matter the child's age.
If either parent is uncertain about the paternity of the child, he can voluntarily submit to a genetics test provided by FSD-CSE. According to the Missouri Department of Social Services, if the genetic test results show "at least a 98 percent probability that the man is the father, then Missouri law says he is the presumed father." If the mother or father refuses to sign an affidavit or submit to a genetics test, either parent can contact FSD-CSE or a lawyer. FSD-CSE or a court can order a mandatory genetic test.
Visitation and Custody
Once paternity has been established, the mother and father may settle on a visitation or custody agreement without the court's intervention. However, if they cannot decide on an arrangement, the courts will decide one for them based on the best interest of the child --- not either parent's presumptive rights. Missouri takes into consideration eight factors when deciding this: the parents wishes and their parenting plans; each parents' ability to perform as a parent; the child's relationship with both his parents, siblings and any other person significant to the child's life; each parents' willingness to foster the child's relationship with the other parents; the child's performance at home, school and within the community; the psychological and physiological health of the child and parents; and the child's preferred custodial parents.
Once the father establishes paternity, he's eligible to pay or receive child support. Either parent can petition FSD-CSE or the court for child support. If the father has primary physical custody of the child, mostly likely the courts will order the mother to pay child support to him. Missouri determines the amount of financial support paid based on the parents' income, ability to pay and the child's needs.
Every parent has an equal right to her child, whether they are married or unmarried, male or female, heterosexual or homosexual. No one parent has any more or less rights than any other, including the two parents of one child. Even if the mother currently has actual custody of the child, the father still has an equal claim to custody until a court rules otherwise.
Unmarried fathers have the unique responsibility to establish paternity. While married fathers benefit from presumed paternity, meaning a married father is always considered the biological father of any child born to the marriage, unmarried fathers must establish their paternity before they can assert their rights. This can be done by completing an acknowledgement of paternity at the time of the child’s birth or later on through DNA testing. It is important that you exercise your right to establish paternity as soon as possible, as you are not recognized as your child’s legal father until you do.
Physical Custody Rights
Once paternity is established, unmarried fathers have an equal claim to custody under Ohio custody laws. This means that you have just as much right to take custody of your child as the mother. If you do not currently have actual custody, you have the right to seek custody through the family court, even if the mother currently has the child. Be aware Ohio has a “presumption of custody” rule, meaning that an unmarried mother has presumed custody of any children she bears until the court establishes otherwise. If the mother currently has custody, and has for an extended period of time, also be aware the court may award the her physical custody unless she is deemed unfit or unable to continue. This is done to disrupt the child’s life as little as possible and would not impede your right to custody.
In the event you do not win physical custody, you still have a right to visitation. You can arrange visitation with the mother privately, but an order for visitation gives you actual leverage you can use to assert your rights if the mother attempts to deny them. Once a visitation order and schedule are in place, the mother cannot revoke or otherwise interfere with your right to spend time with your child for any reason--including failure to pay court-ordered child support. You have a right to determine when, where or how to spend time with your child provided your actions do not violate the visitation order, and the mother cannot force you to do otherwise.
Legal custody is the right to have a say in the way your child is raised, including the right to make decisions about your child’s education, medical care, religious upbringing and legal matters. Unmarried fathers have an equal right to legal custody in states that recognize legal and physical custody as two separate concepts. This is true even if you do not have physical custody or visitation. While the custodial parent has the sole right to control the child’s day-to-day care, both the mother and father must consult each other when making larger decisions for the child. In the event you and the mother disagree and you cannot reach a compromise, the mother’s choices do not automatically trump yours. Instead, you must submit the matter to the court, and after hearing both sides of the matter, the judge will make a final decision. If the mother chooses to evade this process and makes decisions without consulting you, you can enforce your right to legal custody by requesting a hearing with the judge.
In the state of Georgia, an unmarried father can confirm paternity in two ways. The mother and father can sign a Voluntary Paternity Acknowledgment Form at the time the child is born at the hospital. If they wish to sign the form later on, they can do so at the State Office of Vital Records in Atlanta or the Vital Records Office in the county of the child’s birth. The father can also establish paternity through a court order. When paternity involves a court order, the Office of Child Support Services will review the application and perform a genetic test.
If the unmarried mother and father come to a custody arrangement without the aid of the court, they can write their own stipulation (a statement of the arrangement) and consent order (which allows the court to approve the agreement). However, if the parents do not agree on custody arrangements, the court will decide for them, based on the best interest of the child. The factors in determining the best interest of the child are: which parent is the primary care giver; the physical and mental health of the mother and father, and any evidence of abuse by either parent; a prior custody stipulation; each parent’s willingness to foster the child’s relationships with the opposite parent and other family members; the child’s preference; each parent’s ability to provide financially for the child; the residence of each parent; and if a parent abandoned the other, leaving the other parent to care for the child alone.
Visitation occurs when only one parent has physical custody of the child. The noncustodial parent is allowed to see his child but cannot make decisions that affect the long-term choices and rules of the custodial parent, such as baptizing the child in the Catholic Church while the custodial parent raises the child as Jewish. Under circumstances of abuse by the noncustodial parent, visitation is supervised by a friend or relative of the parents’ agreed choice. The court does retain the right to deny visitation. This, however, does not mean that the parent can stop paying child support.
Putative Father Registry
Before any parental rights can be established for a father in Arkansas, he first must register his name, Social Security number and address with the Arkansas Department of Health's Putative Father Registry. This will allow him to stay informed on all legal proceedings involving his child, regardless of whether the mother informs him of them. He also must establish a significant financial, custodial or personal relationship with this child in order for his parental rights to begin.
A father who has registered with the Arkansas Department of Health and has established a significant role in his child's life has the right to petition the court of a share of custody of that child. A custody hearing must be conducted to determine the father's ability to provide a quality home for his child and to address any concerns the mother may have relating the father's increased role. Child support also may be adjusted at this hearing as payment amounts are contingent on the percentages of custody.
Unmarried fathers retain rights to visitation of any biological children as long as putative rights have been established by the court. Mothers are obligated to allow fathers to visit biological children regardless of the status of child-support payments or any other factors that do not pose a danger to the child's well-being.
Life Decisions for the Child
Regardless of married status, fathers retain putative rights to decisions regarding a child's religion, the school he attends and major medical decisions. He also must be informed of any adoption actions taken by the child's biological mother, and his signature is required for any adoption to be legal. Without a signature, the unmarried father retains his parental rights.
Mississippi's Uniform Law of Paternity is set forth in Title 93, Chapter 9, Sections 1 through 49 of the state code. If paternity is in question, the father, mother or child can bring a petition before the court. The court will require that the mother, the child and the alleged father appear at an approved laboratory for a blood test. Laboratories are permitted to conduct court-ordered genetic testing if: (1) test results can be returned in 14 days, (2) the laboratory is licensed to do business in Mississippi and (3) it went through the required "competitive procurement process." When results are presented to the court, paternity is only formally established if the test shows that the alleged father is the father by a percentage of no less 98 percent.
Paternity can also be voluntarily acknowledged. The form can be signed at the hospital within 24 hours of the child's birth and filed with the Mississippi Department of Health. The Bureau of Vital Statistics will also accept forms at any time after the child's birth if the form is signed by both the mother and father and is also notarized. At that time, the birth certificate can be amended to list the alleged father as the legal father.
Once paternity is established in Mississippi, the unmarried father can file for custody of his child. Parents have equal rights to custody, and neither parent is given preference based on gender. Joint custody is preferred to give the child maximum contact with both parents. In the Mississippi court decision of Albright v. Albright, the court established the "best interests of the child" factors. They include: (1) each parent's ability to care for the child, (2) whether the parents' work obligations will interfere with raising the child, (3) the child's age, (4) the health of the parents and the child, (5) the child's emotional bond with each parent, (6) each parent's moral behavior, (7) any history of drug or alcohol abuse, (8) the child's preference, if the child is at least 12, (9) each parent's ability to provide a stable home environment and (10) any history of violence or abuse.
If an unmarried father does not seek custody or is not awarded custody, he also has the right to visitation. He is entitled to liberal contact by electronic and regular mail, as well as frequent phone conversations. In-person visitation schedules vary based on the availability of the child and the unmarried father. When the child is of school age, visitation is typically set for alternating weekends and holidays, as well as at least half of the summer vacation.
The state of Michigan permits unmarried fathers to claim paternity before or after the birth of a child, Traverse City, Michigan family attorney, Jeanne Hannah, says on her website . They may file a "Notice of Intent to Claim Paternity" in the county in which they reside before the birth of a child. Conversely, they may wait until after the baby is born to have a DNA test performed.
However, under Michigan's Paternity Act, an unmarried father has no rights to support or visit his child if the mother was married during the birth of that child. Furthermore, under this law, unmarried fathers may enter into agreements with mothers via a mutually signed affidavit to establish paternity. The affidavit must be filed with the state.
Hannah also advises that unmarried fathers begin making child-support payments during the pregnancy. In the event the mother refuses, she states that these fathers may set up bank accounts and deposit funds into the account accordingly. Once the baby is born, unmarried fathers can request a paternity test through the courts. If paternity has been established, they may provide evidence of the bank account as proof of their willingness to support the child. However, child support does not establish unmarried fathers' rights to visitation or custodial arrangements.
Through adoption or a court order for custody, unmarried fathers may obtain possession of their children and make decisions regarding their welfare. These decisions may relate to their education, medical care or choice of religion. In matters of adoption, the state of Michigan's Adoption Code establishes that a father must be given notice about the potential for his child to be adopted and becomes next in line to receive custody of the child if the mother files for adoption. Additionally, an unmarried father who has demonstrated a history of providing "regular and substantial care," (consistent monetary, physical and emotional support) further establishes his rights as a parent and may apply for any one of Michigan's custodial arrangements. These arrangements include sole legal custody, sole physical custody, joint legal custody and joint physical custody.
Role of the Court
The court prefers parents to settle the issue of custody themselves. If the parents are not able to agree, the court decides the custody dispute. The court's ruling must be decided in compliance with the California Family Code Sections 3020, 3011, 3040 and 3041. The court is not to show preference to a parent based on gender, but must rule in the best interest of the child according to the state statute criteria in Section 3011.
California courts consider preference of the child and any other factor that may affect the child's physical, intellectual and emotional well-being; which parent is more likely to encourage/permit and allow frequent access to the noncustodial parent; and current and past abusive or violent behavior as defined in the California's Family Code.
Types of Custody
There are four types of custody that can be granted by the court: legal custody (makes official decisions like school and medical), physical custody (child lives with parent), sole custody (parent has both physical and legal custody) and joint custody. Joint custody has a variety of meanings--shared legal custody and one parent having physical custody; parents share both legal and physical custody; and one parent may have legal custody while both parents share physical custody.
Planned Custody Order
Parents have the ability to submit to the court a shared custody plan they both agree on for implementation by the court.
Choosing a Lawyer
Custody disputes are emotional and sensitive issues, so find a lawyer who can understand your position and will handle your case with compassion. Be wary of lawyers who use child-custody actions in attempts to coerce the opposing party to give up more property, or file frequent motions to cultivate conflict to justify an enlarged bill.