Men who have children out of wedlock don’t always immediately realize the unique legal challenges they will face with respect to being a father to their new child. Because of the way state laws are set up, fathers do not automatically have the rights proper to a father simply by signing their new baby’s birth certificate. And yet, the man is still expected to support that child, and the consequences for failing to do so can be serious.
In order to assert one’s rights as a father, a man needs to file an action to establish his paternity. When a man has a child by a married woman, he has to fight against the state’s presumption that the child belongs to the woman’s husband.
It is also important for unmarried fathers to realize that any private agreement he may have with the child’s mother with respect to time with the child or support they will provide for the child does not matter to a court. In situations where the relationship between the father and mother turn sour, the father needs to petition a court to grant him the right to spend time with his child, and support agreements will always be scrutinized under established standards rather than what was agreed upon.
In terms of child support, fathers are expected to provide for their children whether they have asserted their paternal rights or not. If the mother applies for government assistance of any kind, the state has the right to pursue a child support action against the father. Fathers do not have to wait for a court order to be issued in order to receive credit for child support they provide, since courts will account for support given prior to any orders. Good records must be kept though.
Unmarried fathers facing difficulties in any of these areas do well to contact an experienced attorney for direction.
Source: ABC Action News, “Five important things that unwed fathers need to know,” Yvette Harrell, October 8, 2013.