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Unwed fathers have rights, but may need to take steps to enforce those rights.

If you are an unwed father, you are not alone.  The number of unwed fathers is growing. Your parental rights are constitutional right. However, enforcement of those rights seem to be automatic ONLY for the biological mother. You not only have a parental rights, but also obligations.  Here are 5 things you need to know about your parental rights.

  1. You need to establish paternity.  If you are not listed on the birth certificate as the father, take steps to establish paternity. This may require court action and/or DNA tests if the mother does not agree.
  2. You need to maintain a parental relationship with the child and provide support.  Your rights can be terminated if you do not, but it takes a court order to terminate your rights.  On the other hand, you can’t just walk away.  If you are determined to be the father, you will be required to support the child.  You must support the child even if you do not visit the child.   “Signing over my rights” will not get you out of paying child support.  Courts will not terminate your right just to get you out of paying child support. Failure to pay child support can result in penalties including loss of driving privileges, suspension of professional licenses, contempt of court, court fees and even incarceration.
  3. You may need to establish custody through a court order.  Without an order, you have no way to enforce your rights.
  4. Without a custodial order, you may not have access to school and medical records.   Schools and medical providers should honor your right if you can produce a birth certificate with your name on it.  However, many times they demand to see a custodial order.
  5. If you decide to enforce your rights, understand that the informal agreement that you have with the mother, even if it is in writing, is not enforceable unless it is filed in court and made an order of the court.
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