In Pennsylvania, as in the rest of the country, family structures are changing. While many may follow a traditional route and get married, many couples have children without entering into matrimony with one another.
It is important to understand how the legal parenting relationship changes depending on one’s marital relationship with the biological mother of one’s child.
Biological parents have a right to establish child custody and visitation with their children, regardless of whether they were married when the child was born or not. However, to ensure fathers’ rights can be exercised, they should make sure they first establish paternity.
If the couple was not married at the time the child was born, then fathers must first establish paternity in order to access father’s rights. Depending on the circumstances, this could involve signing and filing an acknowledgement of paternity with the relevant agency at the time of birth or later. However, not every situation is the same, and other fathers may find themselves disputing paternity, and have to have DNA testing conducted through a legal order. Once paternity is established, visitation, child custody and support can be discussed. Parents often develop parenting plans that cover a wide array of details, but visitation rights of unmarried fathers often include an assessment of the child’s relationship with the father, history of drug or alcohol abuse and child abuse.
Where parents cannot agree to a visitation schedule, either parent can petition the court for assistance. Generally, courts presume a child would benefit from having both parents play an active role in their upbringing. However, before any father’s rights can be exercised, paternity must be established. Discussing one’s visitation and child custody options with an experienced attorney might be one way to proceed.