A dad who is not married to the mother of his child may have to deal with many frustrations. If you are in this situation, you may already understand how challenging it may be. Obviously no one questions that the child belongs to the mother, but you may have to take serious steps to prove your connection to the child and to fight for the right to be part of the child’s life.
You are not alone since about 40 percent of children born in the U.S. have parents who are not married. That means there are likely many fathers like you seeking to understand and protect their rights as they pertain to their children.
If you wish to be involved in the life of your child, you must first prove to the California family courts that you are the biological father of the child. The presumption of paternity is reserved for married fathers, and without taking the step of establishing paternity, you have no legal standing. This means you have no say in the child’s upbringing, education, medical care or other critical issues. You also have no right to custody.
A paternity test may erase any doubts about the child’s father, but it is much simpler if the mother of the child acknowledges that you are the father. If you are with her at the birth of the child, you may have the opportunity to assist with completing the birth certificate forms. Otherwise, you may sign a Voluntarily Declaration of Paternity. If the mother agrees to sign this, you can move to the next step.
Custody and other issues
After establishing paternity, you may still have to fight for fair access to the child if you are not living with the mother. Even married fathers who divorce the mothers of their children often have to fight for shared custody. Despite advances in the understanding of parental roles, many courts lean toward granting full custody to the mother and allowing the father visitation. If your parenting partner is not willing to negotiate a fair division of custody, you would be wise to prepare to present your case in court.
Establishing paternity also binds you to the obligation of providing financial support for the child. Child support and custody are two separate issues, so you may not withhold support if your former partner refuses you access to the child. Instead, you would be wise to obtain solid legal counsel who has experience dealing with issues related to fathers’ rights.