Information about the Rights of Unwed Parents
by Arina Smith Legal 03 February 2021
If you are an unwed parent and you and the other parent are dissolving your relationship, you may be afraid of what that really means. You may be unsure of your rights and how best to arrange child custody and visitation rights. And what about child support? These are all important considerations.
The rights of unwed parents have long been a topic of debate. Historically, mothers have more rights to custody than fathers. Fathers often struggle with the fact that visitation rights are not guaranteed. And there is often debate about whether child support is relevant.
A lot of your questions and concerns can be addressed by a family lawyer in Washington, D.C. In the meantime,
Here is some basic information about the rights of unwed parents
Legal Rights of Unwed Parents
If you are married, establishing child custody, visitation, and child support is done in divorce papers. If you are not married, however, there is no such process. But that doesn’t mean that you don’t have rights. Three sections of the District of Columbia Code Division II. Judiciary and Judicial Procedure cover topics relevant to unwed parents, including:
- Section 16-914, which relates to custody of children
- Section 16-909-01, which relates to the establishment of paternity by voluntary acknowledgment or genetic test results
- Section 16-909-03, 16-909-04, which relates to the voluntary paternity acknowledgment program
These laws are designed to help unwed parents make decisions about how they will manage important considerations when separating.
How Does the Court Establish Paternity?
An unwed father must establish paternity before parental duties and/or rights apply. To do this, the father can voluntarily acknowledge paternity or can get a court order. These processes include:
Voluntary acknowledgment: When both parents agree, they can sign an Acknowledgement of Paternity form. The father’s name will then be added to the birth certificate.
Court order: The father can file a petition in the Superior Court. This is most often done when the parents do not agree on paternity. The court may then order genetic testing to determine if the petitioner is the biological father. If so, then child support and visitation matters can then be addressed.
How are Custody and Visitation Handled?
When a parent is awarded “legal custody”, he or she has the power and right to make major decisions about the child’s life, such as healthcare, religion, and upbringing. Parents may share “joint custody”, which means they both have child-rearing responsibilities, even if the child primarily lives at one parent’s residence.
Visitation rights are given to the parent that does not have physical custody of the child, or the parent that the child does not primarily live with. A visitation order ensures that both parents have quality time with the child.
Generally, D.C. courts presume that joint custody is in the best interests of the child. In cases where the court suspects abuse, neglect, or parental kidnapping, then joint custody will not be recommended.
Child custody orders generally favor positive and routine contact between the child or children and both parents. As a result, the court may issue a child custody order that establishes:
- Frequent contact between each parent and the child or children
- A sharing of child-rearing and related responsibilities (co-parenting)
- Encourages love and affected between the child or children and both parents, regardless of the parents’ marital status.
Unwed parents have the right to information about their child, whether they are the primary custodial parent or not. That means both parents have the right to information about the child’s health, education, and mental health records.
Do Unwed Parents Need a Lawyer?
Because the process of child custody and visitation is different if the parents are not married, it is advisable to speak with a family lawyer before attempting to resolve family law matters on your own. Working with a lawyer ensures your rights are protected as your family navigates this difficult time.