Nearly 40 percent of all children are born to unmarried parents. While many unmarried couples choose to stay committed to each other and raise the children together, there are a number of couples who don’t stick together.
Oftentimes in such situations, the child will live with the mother. But this doesn’t leave the child’s birth father out of the picture. Or at least it shouldn’t. Many unwed fathers know little about their legal rights as a parent, but they do have them.
Many unmarried fathers want to remain involved in their child’s life, even though they are no longer together with the mother. To ensure this, they must get prepared for a lifetime of being a parent as well as know their legal rights.
Key things unmarried fathers should do
Things can be a bit complicated, but in matters related to child custody and visitation, here are a few things that unmarried fathers should do:
- Establish paternity to obtain father’s legal rights. This is a necessary step. Once you’ve done that, then you can continue toward pursuing custody as well as resolving visitation. The easiest way to do this is to make sure the unwed father’s name is on the birth certificate. If your fatherhood is contested by the mother, you may have to take a paternity test.
- Attempt to gain custodial rights. Unmarried parents get the same protection that divorced couples get regarding custody and visitation issues. However, fathers rarely win sole custody of a child. For an unmarried father to accomplish this, he would have to show that the mother was unfit to raise the child as well as prove that he has been the child’s primary caregiver.
- Pay child support. You know that you have financial responsibility for your child, so don’t neglect this requirement. The only way you can avoid paying child support is to give up your paternity rights.
Some unmarried fathers, as well as unmarried mothers, may shirk responsibilities, and this can only hurt the well-being of the child. Although judges grant visitation rights, they cannot order parents to exercise those rights. An unmarried father or mother who chooses not to regularly visit his child cannot be forced to do so.
But participation in your child’s life is critical – from their younger years to early adulthood. You have an opportunity to play a big role in your child’s life, so do so. A number of unmarried fathers play consistent roles in their children’s lives. The bottom line is to keep the best interests of the child in mind.