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What parental rights do unmarried fathers have?

According to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, almost 41 percent of the babies born in the United States in 2012 were children of unmarried mothers. This increasing trend may have some unwed fathers in New York City wondering exactly what their rights are to their children.

In most cases, unmarried fathers have fewer rights than those who are married to the baby's mother or the unwed mothers. Part of the reason is purely biological -- while there may be some speculation on the identity of the birth father, the act of giving birth to the baby is proof of biological ties for the mother.

In recent years, there have been changes in many family courts in the United States. Unmarried fathers have mounted successful legal challenges that resulted in Supreme Court rulings recognizing biological fathers' constitutional right to be notified if their child is being adopted.

The presumption of legitimacy presumes a man to be the father of a child under these circumstances:

-- The baby is born to a mother who is married; her husband is the putative father.

-- Paternity is acknowledged by the man in a formal legal document.

-- The father agrees to be listed as such on the baby's birth certificate.

-- After a court issues a formal paternity order.

In order for an unmarried father to become entitled to any father's rights, paternity must first be established in one of the above ways. This opens the door for him to petition the court for custody and visitation, have input into parenting decisions and pay child support.

There is a trend now in custody and visitation cases to give each parent equal time with his or her children, recognizing that most children benefit from developing close relationships with both their mothers and fathers. While this is not true in all cases, as when a parent acts irresponsibly, has substance abuse issues or is involved in domestic violence disputes, the court always bases its decisions on the best interests of the child.

Child support is established to help the custodial parent meet the needs of the child. In New York, a non-custodial parent must pay child support for un-emancipated children up until their 21st birthday.

Those with questions about fathers' rights may consult a New York family law attorney to discuss them in depth.

Source: The Law Dictionary, "What Rights Does An Unmarried Father Have?" J. Hirby, Nov. 17, 2014

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