According to the non-profit Child Trends, during 2013, 41 percent of children born in the U.S. were born to unwed mothers. Statistics from 2006 – 2010 indicate that nearly 60 percent of these children were born to unwed mothers who were in a cohabitating union with the child’s father. However, even in cases where a child’s parents are together, an unwed father’s biological parentage rights are not acknowledged unless he takes steps to legally establish paternity.

Every child has the right to know and establish a relationship with his or her biological father. However, in cases where a child’s parents are not married and subsequently break up, the mother is granted sole child custody rights. Therefore, even in cases where a father wants to have a relationship with a child and provide financial support, his requests may be denied by the child’s mother and he has no legal recourse.

If both parents are in agreement about the father’s paternity, both must sign and file an Affidavit of Parentage. Upon paternity being established, a father is afforded legal rights to petition for custody or visitation rights to a child. Additionally, if applicable, a father may be ordered to pay child support.

In cases where a father’s paternity is in question, genetic testing is completed through the state’s Support Enforcement Administration. Either a mother or alleged father can request that genetic testing be completed. If the results of a genetic test prove that an alleged father is 97.3 percent “statistically likely” to be a child’s father, he may choose be declared the child’s legal father or to proceed with a paternity trial.

There’s nothing more important than a child and providing for his or her physical, emotional and mental growth and development. Fathers or mothers who have questions about paternity, child custody or visitation rights would be wise to discuss their circumstances with an attorney who handles family law and child custody matters.

Source: The People’s Law Library of Maryland, “Paternity,” 2014