Fighting to be a parent: the challenges faced by many unwed fathers
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, statistics from 2014 show that 40.2 percent of the babies that were born in the U.S., were born to unwed mothers. While some of these mothers were likely in committed relationships and even cohabitating with a baby’s biological father, when it comes to paternity and a father’s legal rights to parent his child, the courts have the final say.
As U.S. marriage rates continue to fall, more and more children are being raised by fathers who are not automatically afforded the same rights and protections as their married counterparts. For example, a married man whose wife gives birth is automatically deemed to be the child’s biological father. Additionally, a married father is automatically granted full parental rights and therefore has a legal say in and right to make decisions about a child’s medical care, academics and issues that relate to his or her general wellbeing. If a child’s mother and father subsequently divorce, the father is almost always automatically granted some type of access to a child via custody or visitation rights.
However, when it comes to unwed fathers, no parental rights are automatically granted nor recognized by the courts until and unless a father takes steps to establish paternity. The easiest and fastest way to establish paternity is when both parents are in agreement and sign a Voluntary Acknowledgement of Paternity. In cases where paternity is disputed by one party, a court order and genetic test can be used to confirm a biological father’s identity.
Even after a father has established paternity, he may face challenges with regard to petitioning for child custody and/or visitation. This is often especially true in cases where a child’s mother and father do not get along and a mother contests such requests. Unwed fathers in Illinois who are facing these types of legal challenges are advised to seek the advice and assistance of a family law attorney.
Source: Illinois Legal Aid, “Establishing Legal Parentage (Paternity),” March 8, 2016