How Unmarried Dads Gain Visitation and Custody Rights in NC: Establishing Paternity Is Key

You found out that a pregnant mother is allegedly expecting your child or that a baby that was recently born apparently belongs to you. Or perhaps you just learned “through the grapevine” that a child born to a former female partner is yours. Now that you’ve heard this information, you want to sort out whether that information is accurate, so if it is, you can assert your parental rights. What do you do?

Then maybe you’re in a situation where you’re confident or flat out know that the baby a former lover is pregnant with or a child born recently or some time ago is yours. Perhaps the mom isn’t being overly cooperative in letting you spend time with them and wants to know your options. 

Also, maybe you and the baby’s mother never married but are still in a relationship or aren’t but get along well enough. You may realize that if “things go south” between you two, the mother could easily deprive you of access to your child that you can’t envision spending time without. You may want to know what you can do to ensure you have continued lawful access to them. 

The above concerns are just a few examples of why establishing paternity is key. It’s how unmarried dads gain visitation and custody rights in NC. 

Below, we’ll share how dads of children born out of wedlock can ensure that they’re legally recognized as a child’s father in North Carolina and what the benefits of doing this are. 

How Custody Works Among Unmarried Parents in North Carolina

A mother who has a child out of wedlock is immediately assumed to be that baby’s bona fide parent unless evidence to the contrary is produced (i.e., a surrogacy agreement). Thus, it’s unnecessary for a mom who has just given birth to establish parentage to secure custodial rights to the child. The same doesn’t hold true for unmarried fathers in NC. They, instead, must prove that they’re indeed the father before they can secure custody and associated parental rights.

How Do Unmarried NC Fathers Establish Paternity? 

There are two different options fathers have for establishing paternity in our state, including: 

Signing an Affidavit of Parentage

The best time for dads to establish paternity of their child is immediately after their baby is born at the hospital, per the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services. To do this, the Child Support Services (CSS) says fathers must both be physically present at the hospital and have their identification card on hand to sign the Affidavit of Parentage (AOP). Once completed, this legal document gets filed with the NC Office of Vital Records, which uses the information provided when preparing the child’s birth certificate.

Undergoing DNA Testing

Undergoing genetic testing, which is another way of referring to taking a DNA test, is also recommended by the CSS, especially in situations where there’s any uncertainty about who a child’s biological father is. Testing like this is highly accurate and can be undertaken voluntarily or court-ordered.

DNA testing is relatively non-invasive and generally only involves a father allowing the inside of their cheek to be swabbed. The same occurs with their child.

Parents in North Carolina can use DNA testing to confirm paternity so that they can move forward in taking the next steps toward retaining and/or sharing custody or securing child support voluntarily or with the court’s intervention.

What Purpose Does Establishing Paternity Serve?

Establishing paternity is all about putting yourself in a solid position to eventually request visitation or custody and support your child financially and emotionally. While many factors surrounding the health and wellbeing and thus best interests of a child may impact a family law judge’s decision whether to restore or deprive a parent of their parental rights, unmarried dads may lack the basic right to raise concerns without first documenting that they are indeed the father. Thus, if you want to have the best possible opportunity of securing visitation or custody, even if you and the mom have a falling out, it’s necessary to move forward in establishing paternity per one of the processes described above.

Paternity and Child Support

Many unmarried fathers want to be in their children’s lives but resist voluntarily signing an AOP or voluntarily providing their DNA because they don’t want to be hit with having to make child support payments. This is an unavoidable obligation as a parent. 

Even if you don’t sign an AOP or you don’t willingly submit to DNA testing, the Court can order you to do so. Dependent on those results, a judge will order you to pay support. The CSS enforces those orders. So, not taking the steps to establish paternity doesn’t eliminate your need to provide financial support for your child. A judge can order you to pay even if you decide not to be actively involved in your child’s life.

When To Seek an Attorney’s Help as an Unmarried Father 

If the mother of your baby was married to someone else at the time the baby was conceived or born, then her husband may be automatically deemed to be the legal parent of that child. This is just one of many different situations that may warrant you discussing your unique situation with a family law attorney in Raleigh.

Contact us at Biggs Law Firm to discuss your concerns regarding establishing paternity and securing visitation or custody rights. A lawyer will advise you of your rights. 

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