Access Rights of Unmarried Fathers

Updated March 21, 2017

The access unmarried fathers have to their children is determined by the law of the state where the child lives. All states have a procedure for determining legal paternity of a child and who will have custody of the child. In most states there is no distinction between married and unmarried fathers. Some states have a policy that children should have an ongoing relationship with both parents as long as the parents are responsible.Non-custodial fathers in all states have to pay child support once they are identified as the child's biological father.

Determining Paternity

When a child is born during a marriage, it is presumed to be the biological child of the mother's husband. This presumption can be rebutted by paternity tests that show the husband is not the biological father. Unmarried fathers have no presumption of paternity in their favour; and if the mother does not admit paternity, an unmarried father has to file a legal action to establish paternity under the laws of the state where the child lives. If the mother was married to someone else at the time of the child's birth or during the pregnancy, the biological father will have to overcome the presumption that the husband was the father. The weight of evidence on paternity can vary somewhat from state to state, but generally if the mother puts the father's name on the birth certificate that is an admission that he is the father. Genetic test results are usually the most important evidence in a paternity case, but genetic testing may not be conclusive. In that situation, other evidence about men the mother slept with during the time of possible conception, the father's payment of support, and the father's relationship with the child are all relevant in a paternity case.

Child Support

Both parents are obligated to support their children in all states, unless they are unable to do so because of disability, institutionalisation or incarceration. Each state has its own method of calculating child support and for enforcing support payments. Fathers need to be aware that if they want access to their children they will have to admit paternity and pay child support. If they do not admit paternity, they will have no right of access to their children.

Visitation Orders

Once the biological father has established his paternity and agreed to a child support order, he can either agree with the mother on a visitation arrangement or bring an action in the state where the child lives for a court order allowing visitation. The court will decide the father's right of visitation based on the best interests of the child. The court will consider a variety of factors, such as the age of the child, the relationship between the father and the child, the father's maturity and stability, and any history of child abuse, domestic abuse, drug use, DUI, or other actions that might create a risk of harm to the child. The court can order supervised visitation if it believes an ongoing relationship with the father is in the best interests of the child but that the father is not responsible enough to care for the child on his own. Once a visitation order has been made, the mother cannot deny visitation just because the father becomes unable to make child support payments.

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About the Author

Sangeet Duchane practiced law for several years before becoming a writer. She has since published five nonfiction books and articles in various magazines and online for eHow and, among others. She specializes in articles on law, business, self-help and spirituality.