What Are the Rights of Unmarried Fathers?

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In general, an unmarried father who has established legal paternity can ask the courts to approve a part-time living arrangement and an equal say in child-rearing decisions. He may also have the right to visitations. In cases where the mother is deemed unfit, an unmarried father may be able to seek sole legal and physical custody.

An unmarried father's rights, as well as the process for obtaining these rights, vary by state. In the United States, an unmarried father who is not recognized as a legal parent has no rights to custody under law. Furthermore, in addition to establishing paternity, some states require unmarried fathers whose children were born out of wedlock to legitimize the child to receive consideration in court for custody or visitation. For example, under Georgia, as well as Minnesota, law as of 2014, listing the unmarried father's name on the birth certificate is insufficient for establishing legal paternity. Instead, the fathers must sign a separate paternity form or petition the court.

Georgia also requires legitimization, which can be accomplished using the same form. While legal recourse is available to help unmarried fathers obtain custody rights, most courts are unlikely to award sole custody to a father as long as the mother is an active and able parent. Many states also afford unmarried fathers the right to be informed of a pending adoption or prevent one from moving forward.