In Pennsylvania, in order for a parent to request child custody or visitation, the parent needs to be legally recognized as the child's mother or father. While that might sound simple and obvious, many people might be surprised that unmarried fathers do not have parental rights automatically. A woman who gives birth to a child is considered that child's mother for legal purposes, and her husband is considered the child's father. Unmarried men have to work to establish fathers' rights.
In order for an unmarried man to be considered a child's father, he and the child's mother have to sign an Acknowledgment of Paternity form. If the mother is not willing to do this, the biological father must establish paternity via DNA test and obtain a court order.
Failing to establish paternity as soon as possible can result in significant problems for a biological father who wants parental rights in Pennsylvania.
In a recent case in North Carolina, a man lost a bid to stop the mother of his child from putting the child up for adoption because he had failed to establish paternity.
The man apparently was not aware that he had fathered a child until six months after the baby boy was delivered and given up for adoption. Once he found out, he tried to have the adoption canceled and obtain custody. The state supreme court ruled against the man because he had failed to secure his paternity rights earlier. The court said the man should have essentially been working toward this even before the woman became pregnant by knowing whether she was using birth control and showing an interest in whether she would become pregnant.
While this case is somewhat unusual, it is a reminder of the limited rights of unmarried fathers. If you have fathered a child, it is important to begin taking steps to establish paternity as soon as possible. It may be wise to seek legal counsel to set this process in motion.
Source: News & Record, "Court doesn't upset adoption for biological father," Doug Clark, June 12, 2014