Paternity Struggles: The Rights of Unwed Fathers

Over the last 50 years the number of children born to unmarried parents has increased from 5% to 41%, according to a Pew Research Center study on the rise of new family types.

Thus, far more children now live with an unmarried parent. This change from the typical family unit has caused an increase in conflicts between the unwed parents when issues regarding child support and visitation arise.

As a result of these trends, there are large numbers of unwed fathers who need advice concerning their paternity rights when the child is born.

As an unwed father, it is important to be informed of your rights concerning your child so that the mother does not dictate your visitation schedule or regulate your ability to co-parent your child.

The first step of an unwed father should be to establish paternity. Paternity simply proves that you are the father of the child, but does not automatically give you rights regarding custody and visitation. You may obtain a court order for those rights by filing a Petition for Paternity and Custody with your local Circuit Court.

Establishing paternity before your child is born is rare. Most states allow you to file a petition with the court prior to the birth. However, the judge generally will not make a final decision regarding paternity until the child is born.

If you are concerned about the health and safety of your unborn child for reasons of drug or alcohol abuse, then it is important to contact the agency in your state that handles child abuse cases. Although you have limited rights while your son/daughter is unborn, you may be successful in protecting your unborn child once the state investigates your allegations.

Once your child is born, the easiest way to establish paternity is by getting your name on the birth certificate. I understand that some women, out of spite, flat out refuse to provide the father’s name at the time the baby is born.

In some states, the law requires each parent to sign an Affidavit to Establish Paternity. This affidavit can be filled out and sent in to the Vital Records Office either at the time of birth or shortly thereafter.

If you are a father who was denied the right to fill out such a form on the date your child was born, you should contact your state’s Department of Records to obtain information on how to complete the form on your own.

Another way to establish paternity is through an order from an administrative agency such as Child Support Enforcement. Administrative agencies can be helpful during the initial stages of your paternity action by assisting you with filling out forms and helping you obtain a DNA test to establish that you are the father of the child.

Usually the administrative agency is primarily concerned with child support and not with visitation. This is because the state does not want to pay for health benefits or support the child if there is a father who has the ability to pay.

In my opinion as a family law attorney, the best method of establishing paternity is through a court order, because the court generally will make an order regarding child support and custody at the same time.

To do so, you must file a Petition for Paternity and Child Custody with your local Circuit Court or Family Court. The court will then order a paternity test or look to see if the father is listed on the birth certificate to determine whether paternity has been established.

A court order will generally include a parenting plan for the unwed parties to follow. This plan is usually negotiated between the parties or decided by a judge and will further explain your rights regarding custody, parenting and child support.

Once a plan is established a father will feel more involved in the general upbringing of his child and become more included in decisions concerning education and health care. Without the parenting plan, an unwed father is left to the control and command of the mother of the child.

Even if you have a court order regarding visitation and custody, the mother of your child can still refuse to allow you to see your son/daughter. If this happens to you, you must contact an attorney immediately.

A family law attorney can file a Motion for Contempt and a Family Access Motion. These motions will tell the court that you are trying to see your child, but are unreasonably denied access by the mother. If the court finds in your favor, then the mother of your child risks fines, penalties, and costs for failing to comply with the original court order.

The divorce lawyers for men at Cordell and Cordell handle many domestic litigation issues, including paternity. Contact the Cordell & Cordell office nearest you or learn more information about paternity laws on

By Michelle Hughes
Mens Divorce Attorney, Cordell & Cordell

Men's Rights Editor


  1. I am a Mother of 3 grown sons. I so wished there were more ways a Father who actually wants to step up and be a full time Father, would actually get the help he needs. If the Father does not have a ton of money to hire an attorney to fight for his rights, then the Mother automatically wins and the father can be shut out completely other than writing a check for child support. I am not suggesting any attorney does his job to help people for free, but at least a make the fees more reasonable so it is truly in the best interest of the child and not just the pocket book.
    It is just heart wrenching to watch my son want to be a dad to his son, but he doesn’t have the right bank account.
    Please consider finding a way to get more attorneys involved in helping Fathers be a full time Dad, especially if he is better fit parent. EVERY child needs a Mom and a Dad, but Moms are always the better parent.

    • I agree,I am in a similar situation being that I met and fell in love with a younger woman shortly after a breakup we found out she was pregnant and at six weeks pregnant she left me stating that she needed space to herself. We hardly talk anymore, but I do go to appointments and she keeps me posted about the progress of the baby. I am very excited to be having another child, I have three daughters from a previous marriage that I have had custody of since my youngest was nine months old. It is very hard for me not to be allowed to experience this gift first hand,I’m beside myself and feel as though I have no where to turn,I feel my hands are tied. I do also understand that we weren’t married,for which she declined when I asked before she left.
      I tried to do the right thing to no avail
      What can I as an established father do to be a full part of this child’s life

  2. I sign an affidavit in 2003 but know my child mother is trying to file child support against me based of this document but not a DNA test to establish paternity she has told me through out the years the child is not mines the Indiana prosecutors office is taking the case. she tricked me in to signing this document

  3. There are reasons for leaving the father off birth certificate other than a mother’s “refusal” or “spite”. As a single mum I am not ALLOWED to include the father on my baby’s birth cert unless he’s present to sign it. If I attempt to add his name to the form, vital statistics will cross it off and exclude it.

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