Are you an unmarried father who is now curious about your parental rights,
responsibilities, and legal obligations toward your child? If so, you’re
According to the
Pew Research Center, “One-in-four parents living with a child in the United States today
are unmarried. Driven by declines in marriage overall, as well as increases
in births outside of marriage, this marks a dramatic change from a half-century
ago, when fewer than one-in-ten parents living with their children were
Pew Research Center goes on to explain that due primarily to the growing
number of cohabitating parents, the share of unmarried fathers have more
than doubled in the past 50 years. In 1968, only 12% of unmarried fathers
resided with their children, and today, that number has risen dramatically to 29%.
“The growth in unmarried parenthood overall has been driven by several
demographic trends. Perhaps most important has been the decline in the
share of people overall who are married. In 1970, about seven-in-ten U.S.
adults ages 18 and older were married; in 2016, that
share stood at 50%. Both delays in marriage and long-term increases in divorce have fueled
this trend,” according to Pew.
In light of Pew’s data and the rising number of children being born
outside of marriage, it’s no wonder that questions are being raised
about the rights of
Unmarried Mothers Have Automatic Rights
When a child is born to unmarried parents, the mother automatically has
sole physical and legal custody of her child. Until
paternity is legally established, the father has zero rights and responsibilities
toward his child, even if biologically, the child is his. This means the
mother has the sole right to decide:
- Who sees her child and when
- If the father can see his child
- Who will care for the child
- On the child’s medical care
- If she wants to apply for public benefits on the child’s behalf
Until paternity is officially established, the family court’s hands
are tied. It cannot issue orders for child support or child custody, but
once paternity is confirmed, the court is free to do so.
Even though the mother has sole physical and legal custody before paternity
is established, that doesn’t mean she isn’t encouraged to
let the father see his child and it doesn’t mean the father shouldn’t
try to help the mother out financially because these gestures will help
each party’s family law case in the future.
What it Means to Establish Paternity
The California Courts state that establishing paternity means to sign an
official declaration of paternity or to obtain a court order that says
who a child’s legal parents are. “...if the parents of a child
were not married when the mother became pregnant or when the child was
born, the child does not have a legal father until parentage is established.
So even if a father can prove he is the biological father of a child,
if he was never married to the mother, he does not legally have any rights
or responsibilities for the child. For that, parentage must be established
legally,” according to the
As we mentioned earlier, establishing paternity is required before the
court can order child support, child custody, or visitation. A mother
can ask the judge for child support or a presumed father can ask for custody
or visitation orders as part of their paternity case. If the man is not
100% sure he is the father or if he has any doubt and he refuses to admit
that he is the father, the court can order the alleged father and child
to submit to a DNA test.
Once it is established that a man is a biological and legal father of a
child, he will have the same rights and responsibilities of a father who
was married to the mother at the time of the child’s birth:
He will be able to request
child custody and
visitation, also known as “parenting time” so he can legally see his child.
He will be responsible for paying
child support until his child turns 18, or 19 if his child is still enrolled in high
- He will have to pay half of his child’s healthcare costs.
- He will have to pay half of the childcare costs if the mother has to get
a job or go to school so she can get a good job.
Establishing Paternity Benefits the Child
Establishing paternity is very important to children who are born out of
wedlock. First, children benefit emotionally by knowing who their father
is. Legally, paternity establishment gives children the same rights and
privileges as children who are born to married parents.
Some of these legal rights and privileges include financial support from
both parents, legal documentation that identifies both parents, having
the father’s name on the child’s birth certificate, access
to the father’s medical records and history, the right to inherit
from the mother and father, and the right to receive Social Security and
veteran’s benefits, if applicable.
Disputing Paternity in California
If a man is being told by a woman that he is the father of her child, he
has the right to request a DNA test if he isn’t completely sure
he is the child’s father. DNA tests are simple, painless, and highly
accurate. Since the saliva contains DNA, samples of the DNA are collected
by gently rubbing a cotton swab resembling a Q-tip inside the mouth.
If you need legal assistance with a paternity case,
reach out to Claery & Hammond, LLP to request your