Does the Mother Have Legal Sole Custody if the Father Never Established Paternity?

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Different states have different legal methods for establishing paternity for married and single fathers. Custody rights, visitation and child support are dictated by a court order after the father establishes paternity. In most states, the mother has sole legal custody if the father never establishes paternity, unless a court decides otherwise.

Establishing Paternity

If a couple is married when a child is born, establishing paternity is not necessary. All states consider the husband the father of children born to married couples. If the father is not married to the child’s mother, some states allow him to establish paternity by signing a voluntary declaration stating that he is the biological father. Other states require DNA testing for a man not married to the mother of a child to establish paternity.

Types of Custody

The two types of child custody laws are legal and physical. Each type of custody may be sole or joint. Legal custody conveys the right to make major decisions regarding the child. Physical custody of a child directly relates to the primary residence. Sole custody awards the rights of legal or physical custody to one parent and joint custody allows both parents equal rights.

Custody Rights

Custody rights for a father married to the child’s mother at the time the child was born become a court ordered matter at the time of separation or divorce. Single fathers who establish paternity must petition the court for visitation or custody of the child. Single fathers who have not established paternity, according to the rules outlined in the child’s state of residence, have no legal custody rights.

Notification Rights

Single fathers who neglect to establish paternity according to the laws of the child’s state of residence are considered to be putative fathers. Each state maintains a father’s registry where single fathers who have not established paternity can register for rights of notification regarding the child. Notification rights pertain to parental termination rights and pending adoption. Each state also dictates a time frame for single fathers to register or to establish paternity. Time frames for both vary by state. If a single father does not register or establish paternity within the time frame, he no longer retains any notification rights to the child.

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