Tips for Unmarried Parents and Parents-to-Be, Answers About Paternity and Custody Issues
You Must Establish Paternity AND Custody
When a married couple has a child the husband is presumed to be the father and is put on the birth certificate even if he is not present at the hospital during or after the birth. When an unmarried couple has a child it's completely different. There is no presumption of paternity. The mother cannot put the father's name on the birth certificate form, filled out at the hospital, without him filling out and signing a declaration of paternity. A lot of mothers may push hard for this signature because they do not want the spot to be blank or say unknown. Please know that birth certificates can be amended to include the father's name later. This is not a one shot deal. It may not be in the mother or father's best interest to have him sign this document.
Men need to be leery about signing the document unless they are completely sure they are the father. Once the document is signed the father on the birth certificate does have all the rights and responsibilities of being the father of that child. This cannot be changed until the signer proves he is not the father after all. The rights include equal rights to the child with the mother. The responsibilities can include child support. The mother can go to court and get a child support order, if she is on public assistance the state may garnish the father's wages.
Mothers need to understand that equal rights to the child are not equivalent to joint custody. Equal rights mean that either parent can take the child at any time, anywhere they like. Having a man sign a paternity declaration gives him the right to that child. If one parent decides to take the child to their house and not return them the police will not and can not help you get that child back. That parent has the right to have the child. This means that the mother or father who is without the child will need to schedule an immediate child custody hearing, while child custody arrangements are being put into place the child will stay with the parent that physically has that child.
I understand that not all parents who have a child out of wedlock are fragmented. The parents may be very much together. All of that can change in the blink of an eye. There can be a big argument and someone may take that child and leave. With young parents the grandparents often get involved and may convince one party to keep the child. I understand the urge to not rock the boat, but this is a necessary legal matter that must be resolved due to the mother and father's status as an unmarried couple, just as the declaration of paternity or DNA test is necessary to prove paternity.
Take the second step for your own sake and your baby's sake. First, establish paternity, either by declaration or DNA test. Second, establish custody. You may be very glad you did.
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