What Rights Does an Unmarried Father Have?

By J.S. Nogara

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When a child is born to unwed parents, not only the mother but also the father retains certain legal rights to the child. While every state has different laws regarding the rights of unwed parents, most states have similar laws. After being declared as the father of the child, the father gains all of the rights of a married father. However, in order for the unwed father to exercise his rights regarding the child, it is necessary that he be established as the child's father.

Status of Father

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It is necessary for an unmarried father to meet his jurisdiction's definition of a father. All states have statutory definitions of a father. Examples include a man who is listed on the child's birth certificate; a man holding himself out to be the child's father and living with the mother and child; a man who has been determined by the court to be the child's father; a man who is referenced in an affidavit by the mother indicating that he is the child's father; and a man who has filed for paternity in a court of law.

Read More: Absent Father's Rights

Child Custody

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After establishing his status as the father of the child, the unmarried man has the same right to custody of the child as a married father. This custody can be full-time custody or shared custody with the mother. The unmarried parents of the child may reach an amicable agreement regarding child custody, or the father may petition the court for custody of the child. In this case, he must demonstrate to the court that it is in the best interest of the child to place the child in the father's custody.

Child Visitation

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Once an unmarried father has been designated as the legal father of the child, he has the right to child visitation. Generally, this issue emerges in instances in which the father does not have custody of the child and seeks to spend time with the child on a less than full-time basis. In order to exercise the right to visitation, the unmarried father can work out the details with the mother of the child, or he can petition the local family court to award visitation.

Child Support

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Once a father has been legally designated as the child's father, he generally has to provide child support. While child support may be an issue amicably arranged between the unwed father and mother, it may instead require judicial intervention. In the latter case, a court of law would determine the amount of child support owed to the child, as well as a schedule for making the payments.

Miscellaneous Rights

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After establishing himself as the legal father of the child, the father automatically gains other parenting rights. He may be involved in medical decisions, schooling issues and other routine parenthood concerns. Ultimately, the father is entitled to be part of the decision-making issues regarding the child. The unmarried father's decisions should be guided by what's best for the child; otherwise, he may lose some or all of his rights.