Unwed Fathers: Securing Your Parental Rights
Many unwed fathers may have no idea that their parental rights are at the whim of the mother unless paternity is formally established through the courts, which can cause serious problems in the event of a breakup.
You and your partner have been living together for 20 years, but are not married. You had two children together, a daughter and a son, who are now teenagers. You and your partner own a house together and have a golden retriever named Max.
You have been a big part of your children’s lives: You have taken them to their soccer games, cared for them when they had the flu and watched many of their elementary school plays. However, despite all of your devotion to your kids, in most states, you wouldn’t legally be considered their father unless you had petitioned for a court order establishing your paternity.
You may be asking yourself, so what? Why does it matter if I’m legally considered their father? Your children know you’re their father. You know you’re their father. You take care of them and live with them. But even though you may not for see problems with your partner in the future, you must be prepared for the unexpected; your children are not something you want to risk.
In most states, if you and your partner were to separate and you are not legally considered their father, you would not be entitled to custody or have parental rights. So if your children’s mother decided not to allow your children to see you, she could. Without paternal rights, you wouldn’t have access to visitation, their medical records or be able to prevent the mother from moving with the kids to a different state until you have established paternity in the courts and been granted a custody order.
States differ on how a father must establish paternity and what rights he is entitled to after establishing paternity.
For example, in Virginia, if the names of both parents are on the birth certificate, both parents are entitled to equal custody. However, in Tennessee, Missouri, Florida and Vermont, simply having the father’s name on the birth certificate is not enough: The father must go through the courts to get a paternity court order or a Paternity Affidavit.
These biased laws are based on the assumption that fathers are less fit than mothers to care for children or will neglect their children when born out of wedlock. While in the past fathers played a lesser role in raising children than mothers, research shows that fathers are becoming more active in their children’s lives.
The law should change to accommodate the numerous fathers that want to have a part in their children’s lives, even when their children are born out of wedlock. The courts should be encouraging fathers to remain involved in their children’s lives, not making it harder for them to do so.
So what can you do now to ensure that you will still be able to play a role in your kids’ lives in the event that you and your partner split up? Legally establish paternity — this will help protect your parental and custodial rights in the off chance that you and your partner ever separate.
What do you think about the biased paternity laws? Let us know in the comments.