Do Unwed Fathers Have Rights Over Child Custody?

In today’s society, it’s becoming more common and socially acceptable for couples (and non-couples) to have children outside the institution of marriage. Why is this? There are many reasons...A couple may be children of divorce and they may never want to get married. A woman may become pregnant after reuniting with an old flame on a social media site, only for both individuals to feel they made a mistake.

A woman may be a victim of domestic violence and she may leave the father of her child without telling him she’s pregnant. A woman may become pregnant after a casual encounter, or a short period of dating and she may want to raise the baby, but have zero interest in the father.

A married man may impregnate another woman (not his wife), but he’ll still love his wife and have no intention of marrying the other woman. Truly, the possibilities are endless when it comes to children born out of wedlock. So, this brings us to the issue of an unmarried father’s rights to his child.

A Single Father’s Rights Are Not Automatic

If for whatever reason a child is born to unmarried parents, the father has zero rights or responsibilities to his child until paternity is legally established. It doesn’t matter if he’s 100% certain he is the biological father, he cannot invoke his parental rights until paternity is established. “But how is paternity established?”

There are two ways that paternity is established in California: 1) the presumed father signs a voluntary Declaration of Paternity form, or 2) by having a DNA test performed. If there is any question about paternity, the mother or presumed father have the right to ask the family court for genetic (DNA) testing.

Once paternity is confirmed:

  • The father’s name can be on the child’s birth certificate.
  • The court can make orders for child custody and visitation.
  • The court can make child support orders.
  • The child can inherit from either parent.
  • The child has the right to receive Social Security or veteran’s benefits if they are available.
  • The child can receive health insurance from either of their parents.

To learn more about an unmarried father’s rights and responsibilities after paternity is established, contact Cleary & Hammond, LLP for a free case evaluation.