The legal custody of a child born to unmarried parents is granted to the mother, by default. This is because the legal status of the biological father must first be established. Simply placing a male’s name on the child’s birth certificate is not enough. A male who believes that he is the father of a child must either file an acknowledgement of paternity form or file a petition to establish paternity in court. At that point, the mother can either acknowledge the male’s paternity, or the judge will order DNA testing to be certain. Following testing, the court will then enter a judgment of paternity establishing the male as the child’s father. Unlike mothers, males do NOT have automatic parental rights to a child. If a male does not establish his parentage in court, through a formal paternity judgment, he has no legal or parental rights to the child. If enough time passes, it is entirely possible that another male can establish himself as the child’s father, even if he is not the biological father.
A substantial part of my family law practice involves working with men to establish their parental rights, sometimes years after a child is born. In my experience, many fathers are unsure what to do if their access to a child is limited or even prevented by the mother. It is vital to work with an experienced family lawyer as soon as possible to establish your parental rights. The longer a father hesitates to do so, the more difficult it may be to maintain a consistent visitation and relationship with the child. I encourage you to contact me if you have any questions or concerns regarding establishment of your paternal rights. Feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.