If you've had a child with your partner but never married, you may have concerns about your custody rights upon a breakup. Many people assume that an unmarried mother in Pennsylvania automatically gets custody, but that is not exactly true. Unmarried fathers who have voluntarily admitted to paternity and put their name on the birth certificate have equal rights to custody upon a separation. Here's what unmarried parents need to know about their custody rights.
Unmarried Parents' Custody Rights
A married couple who have had a baby in Pennsylvania is presumed to be the child's biological and legal parents. Both have equal rights to custody of the child in the event of a split. The situation is slightly different for unmarried couples. An unwed mother is automatically presumed to be the child's biological and legal parent. However, an unmarried father must take steps to affirm his paternity by signing the birth certificate or an affidavit declaring his paternity. Once paternity is legally established, the father has equal rights to pursue custody of the child.
When to Take a DNA Test
If an unmarried father refuses to acknowledge paternity, the mother can ask the family court for a DNA test. Once paternity is established, she can seek child support from the father, and the father has the right to seek custody and child support from the mother.
In some cases, the presumed unmarried father of a child may want to confirm that they are the biological father with a DNA test before signing the birth certificate or an affidavit. Once a father has formally acknowledged paternity, changing their legal responsibility toward the child can be complicated, even if they later learn they aren't the biological father.
Deciding Upon Custody
When unmarried parents with equal custody rights decide to separate, they must work out a custody and support arrangement just as married divorcing couples do. In Pennsylvania, parents usually either share custody, meaning that the child spends an equal amount in both households, or one parent has sole custody and the other has ample visiting rights.
If the parents cannot arrive at an acceptable custody agreement, they will have to turn to the Pennsylvania family court to resolve the matter. The court will carefully examine the family's personal and financial situation to determine the arrangement that's in the child's best interest. Most child experts agree, however, that it is healthier for the child if the parents can cooperate and find a resolution without court intervention.
Talk to an Experienced Pennsylvania Family Law Attorney
If you are an unmarried parent concerned about your custody rights or struggling to develop an agreeable custody resolution with your ex-partner, you should speak to an experienced family lawyer as soon as possible. Contact the skilled Pennsylvania family law attorney Joseph D. Lento. He has helped numerous parents obtain satisfactory custody results. He wants to help you too. Contact the Lento Law Firm at 888-535-3686 or schedule an appointment online.