“Congratulations, you’re going to be a father.” These words may be very frightening. All kinds of thoughts may be running through the mind of an unmarried man who has just found out he is going to be a father. What are the father’s rights? What about child support? Will I be able to see my child? What if the child really isn’t mine but the mother says it is? The multitude of questions can go on and on. Now what?
I knew I needed to consult with a legal professional to get a full understanding of the legalities of adoption: Do Unmarried Fathers Have Rights? Amy A. Edwards is a family law attorney in Greenville, North Carolina. She has practiced law since 2000 and is certified by the North Carolina State Bar Board of Legal Specialization as a Family Law Specialist.
Here’s a list of things that Mrs. Edwards suggests you consider doing first:
- Consult a family law attorney in your state immediately. Each state has different laws pertaining to the rights of an unmarried father. Make a list of questions and find out your rights.
- Be sure you know how to contact the biological mother. This is very important.
- Ask your attorney if there is a Paternity Register in your state and if you should be registered.
What is a Paternity Register and why is it important?
A Paternity Register acknowledges paternity or possible paternity of a child born out of wedlock. The Federal Social Security Act requires states to have a procedure in place to acknowledge a father’s paternity or possibility of paternity. Hospitals will have a program for voluntary acknowledgment of the child before and after birth.
Acknowledging paternity through the Paternity Register provides some rights to an unmarried father such as notification of any court proceedings about the child, petitions for adoption, and actions to terminate parental rights. Consequences of being on the Paternity Register might include the right to legal notice of custody or adoption proceedings concerning the child and could lead to the requirement of child support.
If there is no Paternity Register in your state, the father will be allowed to file a paternity claim and perhaps sign and file an affidavit or acknowledgment of paternity with the court.
Can you revoke your claim?
Most states will allow the unmarried father to revoke their claim or rescind their notice of intent to claim paternity. In some states, a claim of paternity may not be revoked after 60 days except by court action. Again, check with your attorney.
Who has access to the registry?
Access to information on the Paternity Registry will vary from state to state. Some states may only allow certain persons to access the registry. People who may be allowed access generally are birth mothers, courts, attorneys, adoption agencies, prospective adoptive parents, social service offices in your state, and the state child support enforcement offices.
How To Establish Paternity
A state court has the authority to enter an order declaring paternity, usually based on genetic test results. Because each state has different laws, the federal government requires the following information when fathers sign voluntary paternity affidavits and/or acknowledgments:
– Name, address, social security number, and date of birth for both parents
– The child’s full name, place of birth, and date of birth
– Signature of the mother, father, and witnesses
– A statement signed by both parents stating they understand that signing the affidavit is voluntary and that they understand their responsibilities, rights, options, and consequences
Both parents have 60 days to reconsider.
Mrs. Edwards cited how to establish paternity in North Carolina:
- File a paternity claim (civil action). It’s your right to ask.
- Take a paternity test. Make sure it is a legitimate one.
- Ask an attorney to explain the voluntary (non-court) ways to establish paternity and what your rights are since they can vary depending on what type of paternity you establish.
For instance, in North Carolina, a father who is satisfied that he is indeed the father of a child may choose to voluntarily sign an Affidavit of Parentage instead of filing a paternity lawsuit. The Affidavit of Parentage is a statement, sworn under oath that the father admits he is the father. It is also signed by the mother. The hospital and the Department of Social Services have these forms. The Affidavit may be used later in court to show that, as the father, he is likely obligated to pay child support. But, it also allows the father’s name to be added to the child’s birth certificate. However, the Affidavit of Parentage can be rescinded in 60 days by either parent; a judge can invalidate it after 60 days if it was fraudulent or signed under duress.
According to Clevelandclinic.org, a legitimate DNA paternity test is nearly 100 percent accurate. It is used to determine whether a man is a person’s biological father. The DNA test can use a cheek swab or blood test. The test must be performed in a medical setting if you need results for legal reasons.
Mrs. Edwards also stated that an unmarried father in North Carolina basically has no rights until the birth and delivery of the child. Until then, the father cannot file paternity or custody. A biological father does have the right to object to adoption unless he meets a list of circumstances in the statute. For example, he has the right to object if he provided reasonable and consistent support payments to the mother while pregnant, support the child or both. He must also show he has regularly visited or communicated (or attempted to) with the mother while pregnant or the child since the birth.
Unfortunately, although fathers that meet the state standards like the example above are entitled to notice and have the right to object, biological mothers sometimes lie or feign ignorance about who the father is. Doing so is perjury because an affidavit or a court document is a sworn statement. But, when a father was never told that he was a father, he can’t really exercise his rights.
This may or may not be applicable to you. Each state will have different laws. Be sure to check with your attorney.
Signing the birth certificate
When an unwed father signs the necessary paperwork to have his name added to the birth certificate, he is acknowledging that he is the biological father or perhaps the legal father depending on the state law where the baby is born. This is an example of the differences in the father’s title and, therefore, his rights depending on which type of paternity is established. By agreeing to add his name on the birth certificate, he is agreeing to the paternity of the child on some level and is taking some type of responsibility.
If the father is not on the birth certificate and wants to have legal rights and access to the child, paternity must be established to acknowledge he is taking legal responsibility.
A birth certificate can be amended. If the father’s name is not listed on the birth certificate at the time of birth, he can be added at a later time. There may be a fee to amend the birth certificate. Consult with an attorney in your state.
Why should paternity be established?
Medical History: Having access to medical history information gives your child useful information that may be helpful for current or future medical treatments.
Psychological: There are many emotional benefits for a child to have contact with his or her father. A child may also develop ties to grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and other relatives.
Government Benefits: If the father is disabled or becomes disabled, the child may be entitled to Social Security or Veterans benefits. The child may also be entitled to death benefits from Social Security. The child may also be entitled to benefits if the father was a veteran.
Inheritance: The child has legal rights as an heir from the father and relatives of the father.
Decision Making: Certain actions need to be made to establish a legal relationship with the father. If these actions are not taken, the father has no right to be involved in the child’s life.
Custody and visitation rights for unmarried fathers
Once your paternity is established by the court or voluntarily, have you thought about custody and visitation of the child? Do unmarried fathers have rights? When you have proven paternity, you may start pursuing custody. Custody rights vary from state to state.
Many parents will negotiate a Parenting Plan. The Parenting Plan may include which parent will have primary custody; when visitation will be; which parent will make decisions on education, religion, and health care; and how changes may be handled for any of these decisions. Once the mother and father agree, the Parenting Plan may be filed in court. If parents do not agree on a Parenting Plan, either parent may petition for custody help. Unmarried fathers rarely get sole custody unless it is proven the mother is unfit. It all boils down to focusing on what are the best interests of the child. Modifications to the Parenting Plan can be made if there are changes.
The Child Welfare Information Gateway
Childwelfare.gov is a great source of information. It will help you to put some thought into questions you may have for your attorney. The Child Welfare Gateway “promotes the safety, permanency, and well-being of children, youth and families connecting child welfare, adoption, and related professionals as well as the public to information, resources, and tools covering topics on child welfare, child welfare, child abuse, and neglect, out of home care, and more.”
“A service of the Children’s Bureau, Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, we provide access to print and electronic publications, websites, databases, and online learning tools for improving child welfare practice, including resources that can be shared with families.”
The Child Welfare Information Gateway has so many resources available to you. It’s just a few clicks away. You’ll find state-by-state resources, topics on adoption, publications on many topics, a vast library, and so much more all at your fingertips.
You’re not in this alone. More than 3.75 million babies were born in the United States in 2019. About 40 percent of those babies born were to unmarried women: approximately 1.5 million babies. It sounds like a lot of babies. In actuality, the number has trended slightly downward.
On a personal note, I was adopted at 5 days old. It was a private adoption. After 50 years of searching for my biological family, I was blessed to finally be reunited with my biological father. Many questions I had were answered. One of the first things my father said to me was that he loved me, he never wanted to let me go, and that he thought of me every day. He explained that back then, he was not given a choice. He had no rights. He did not want me to be adopted. My father also explained how upset his parents were because they were never allowed to have a relationship with me. Our first meeting was two years ago. From the moment we first met to this very day, my father and I are like two peas in pod. We have a wonderful relationship that keeps flourishing.
If you decide you want to be in your child’s life, make it known you want to be the dad. Try and give the mother money. Possibly talk to the mother about continuing a relationship. Express that you would be content to be the dad. Ask to go to doctor’s appointments with her. Ask to be her labor coach. Offer to be there during the birth of the child. Do anything she will allow you to do. If she hasn’t told you that you’re the dad, then it is your job to ask. If she intends to place the baby for adoption, talk to an attorney about how and whether you can object. Please note, this is specific to North Carolina. Check with an attorney in your state.
Do Unmarried Fathers Have Rights?
Hopefully, this article will help guide you in the direction you choose. For further information check out Childwelfare.gov, Adoption.com, or your local Department of Social Services. Being a parent is a huge responsibility. If you have a story you’d like to share about being an unmarried father, we would love to hear from you. Please remember that each state has its own laws. If you cannot afford an attorney, contact your local legal aid office.Are you considering adoption and want to give your child the best life possible? Let us help you find an adoptive family that you love. Visit Adoption.org or call 1-800-ADOPT-98.