What Are the Child Custody Laws in North Carolina for Unmarried Parents?

Child custody laws for unmarried parents in North Carolina do not automatically recognize equal standing for a mother and father until paternity is legally established, says Sodoma Law. Unlike with married couples, a father in North Carolina has no legal custody rights even if his name appears on a birth certificate.

In North Carolina, an unmarried father's custody rights and obligations are only established through marriage to a child's mother or legal action, such as signing an affidavit or filing a paternity suit, according to DivorceNet from Nolo. An affidavit of parentage is a voluntary, legally binding document signed in the presence of an official witness. A paternity suit is filed by either parent or a government lawyer, and the court orders genetic testing to establish paternity. Once paternity is legally determined, a court can make decisions about visitation, custody and residency.

As of 2014, same sex marriage is legal in North Carolina, and joint legal custody for same sex partners is now possible, says Haas & Associates, P.A. Parenting agreements can be used for married or unmarried couples to define each parent's rights and responsibilities and specify the consequences of a relationship that ends. Courts in North Carolina have thus far relied on parenting agreements to make custody determinations in nontraditional families.