Know your custody rights as an unmarried parent in Pennsylvania

Having a child outside of marriage means that you have slightly different rights than other parents in Pennsylvania. There are certain issues that can impact your right to financial support or your ability to spend time with your children. Not all unmarried parents have an established legal relationship with their children.

If you don’t have a legal tie to your children, you may need to prove your biological connection to assert your parental rights. Understanding how Pennsylvania family courts handle custody and your rights as an unmarried parent can make it easier to protect your relationship with your children if your relationship with the other parent is no longer positive and healthy.

There is no presumption of paternity with unmarried parents

Even if you have been in a committed relationship for years, the state of Pennsylvania will not assume anyone is the biological parent of a child born out of wedlock. To list the father on the birth certificate, the mother will need him to sign an acknowledgment. On the other hand, to have his name on the birth certificate, the father must have the mother’s consent as well.

That is different than for children born to married mothers. When a married woman comes to the hospital to deliver a child, the staff will assume, unless otherwise informed in writing, that the father is the spouse of the mother. That means her husband will have his name listed on the birth certificate.

Many couples choose to list the father on the birth certificate from the day the child is born, even if they are no longer together. However, sometimes that doesn’t happen. Whether due to a paperwork issue at the hospital or because of a contentious relationship between mother and father, dads may not be on the birth certificate.

The courts can step in and verify paternity

For mothers who want the father of their child to start paying child support and provide for the family, they can ask the courts to test the person they believe is the father. The same is true for fathers who want to establish themselves as genetically linked to a child. They can petition the court to have the mother present the child for testing. These tests are highly accurate, and the results are usually legally significant.

Once the courts establish a biological link between the father and the child, the father will theoretically have rights to seek shared custody. He will also have parental responsibilities toward the child, which include child support obligations. Navigating a pathway toward shared custody and fair child support as an unmarried parent isn’t always easy, but it is possible, particularly with the right legal help.


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