What Are My Rights as an Unmarried Parent?

Written by Jonathan Breeden

Despite how traditional our country and legal system can seem, parental rights are not based on being married. While there are a few laws that connect marriage and parenting, most child matters focus on the biological and legal relationship between the adult and minor. It should give you some comfort that as unmarried parents you have no fewer rights than you would if you were married to your son or daughter’s mom or dad. You have every right, no matter your relationship status, to establish paternity, pursue child custody, and ask for support.

To learn more about your rights as an unmarried parent and how to protect them, call (919) 661-4970 to contact a North Carolina child custody lawyer from Breeden Law Office today.

Establishing Paternity

If you are a single mother dealing with an inactive father, or if you are a father being kept from seeing his child, you need to establish paternity as soon as possible. You do not have any parental rights until the law recognizes you as the child’s legal parent. This requires establishing your biological relationship to the child (or finalizing an adoption).

Both mothers and fathers have the right to head to court to establish parentage. You can request that a judge requires the father submit to a DNA test or requires the mother to bring the child to a DNA test, depending on the situation. Then, the results of the genetic test can be submitted to the court as evidence of parentage.

Requesting Child Custody or Visitation

Once parentage is established, unmarried parents can either come to an agreement regarding child custody and visitation or petition the court to create a custody schedule that is in the child’s best interests. As a mother, this can ensure that your child’s father takes on his portion of responsibility. As a father, it ensures that you get to spend time with your child and build a strong relationship.

In North Carolina, there are several types of custody, including primary, secondary, or joint. In some circumstances, a judge may grant you primary physical custody, which means the child lives with you full time. The other parent then has secondary custody and sees the child during visitation, which may or may not include overnight visits. However, a judge can also award joint custody where you and the other parent split your child’s time equally.

To be clear, there is no presumption that mothers should get primary custody over fathers. If you are an unmarried father, you have every right to seek joint or full custody of your child. You do not have to quietly accept a small amount of visitation time.

So far, we have discussed physical custody, but you also have a right to pursue legal custody of your child. This gives you the ability to participate in making decisions regarding your child’s care and upbringing, including where they go to school, the medical care they receive, and what religion, if any, they are brought up in. Legal custody does not have to be divided the same way as physical custody, but it may be similar. If you become the custodial parent, you may also have full legal custody. However, you may also still split legal custody with the other parent.

Requesting Child Support

After paternity and child custody are decided, you can figure out child support. If you have obtained primary child custody, then you may ask for child support. However, if you have less than half of your child’s time, you may be required to pay support to your child’s mom or dad.

A judge will use North Carolina’s child support to determine how much the non-custodial parent must pay to the custodial parent each month. These guidelines can be complicated, which is why it is best to work with an experienced child custody attorney when dealing with a child support matter. Whether you are the mom or dad, asking for or being asked to pay child support, you should have a lawyer review the situation and ensure the court’s decision accurately reflects the law and the custody situation.

Call Breeden Law Office Today

If you are an unmarried parent and are wondering about your rights, contact experienced North Carolina family law attorney Jonathan Breeden at (919) 661-4970. Attorney Breeden will look at your current situation and guide you through the next best steps, whether that is heading to court or working directly with your child’s other parent.


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