How does custody work for unmarried parents in Pennsylvania?

Both parents have a legal right to participate in raising their child. However, unmarried parents must take steps to ensure the court will protect these rights.

Review the custody considerations for unmarried parents in Pennsylvania.

Establishing paternity

The state does not presume paternity when an unmarried woman gives birth. If the parents agree on the biological father’s identity, they can sign a Voluntary Acknowledgment of Paternity, either at the birth or later at the county Department of Public Welfare.

If either parent is unsure about the child’s paternity, he or she can submit a Petition to Determine Paternity. In this case, the state may order DNA testing so the court can issue a legal paternity order.

Seeking custody

After establishing legal paternity, the parents can agree on a child custody arrangement and submit this agreement to the court. When parents do not agree, the father can pursue custody or visitation through the court. Simultaneously, the mother can seek child support payments.

The judge will review factors including but not limited to both parents’ mental and physical health, any history of domestic abuse or violence, the geographic distance between the parents’ homes, the child’s existing relationships with siblings and extended family members, and each parent’s ability and willingness to create a stable, loving home environment for the child.

Pennsylvania presumes that a relationship with both parents serves the child’s best interests. Even if one parent has not participated in the child’s life, he or she can attempt to rebuild the relationship by requesting supervised visitation.



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