Unmarried Parents in Pennsylvania: Does the Mother Automatically Get Custody?

Posted by Joseph Lento | Jan 13, 2023 | 0 Comments

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 Team at LLF Law Firm. They have helped numerous parents obtain satisfactory custody results. They want to help you too. Contact the LLF Law Firm at 888-535-3686 or schedule an appointment online.

About the Author

Joseph Lento

"I pride myself on having heart and driving hard to get results!" Attorney Joseph D. Lento is a veteran of one of the nation's busiest family courts with nearly 20 years' experience passionately helping families. By day, he worked in the trenches of family court, and at night, he studied the law. He helped countless families while working at family court, and he went on to become an attorney, dedicating his law practice to continuing the work he started years earlier. Mr. Lento's experience both behind the scenes and on the front lines allows him to understand a client's family law matter from all angles, and allows him to find and employ the most effective strategies to get favorable outcomes for any client. Joseph D. Lento is licensed in Pennsylvania New Jersey, and New York, and is admitted pro hac vice as needed nationwide. In the courtroom and in life, attorney Joseph D. Lento stands up when the bell rings!


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The LLF Law Firm has unparalleled experience practicing Family Law in Pennsylvania. If you are having any uncertainties about what the future may hold for you and your family, contact our offices today. Our Family Law Team will go above and beyond the needs for any client and fight for what is fair.

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