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Turning Points Blog

A family law blog about tying and untying knots and other common threads


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What are the rights of unmarried parents?

Posted March 2010. Filed under Children, Parenting

In Ohio, the unmarried parents of a child do not automatically have equal rights. By statute, an unmarried mother is the ‘natural legal custodian’ of her child, with the right to make all the decisions. The father has no active parental rights at all.

Can unmarried fathers get parental rights? Absolutely. In order to activate their rights, single fathers can seek an order from an appropriate court. That means filing a complaint that asks the court to

1)      determine paternity

2)      allocate parental rights (shared parenting or visitation)

3)      set a proper level of child support.

Once the case is in court, both unmarried parents are taken to have parental rights and parental responsibilities: participation in parenting activities plus financial support. The only question is how the rights and responsibilities get allocated.

One rule of thumb for a single dad who wants to activate his right to be a father: do it as soon as possible. Go to court right away. Begin defining and fulfilling your financial responsibilities as early in your child’s life as you can. Do the same with your parenting time and rights.  

The longer an unmarried father waits to pursue his legal rights and responsibilities, the more likely a court is to allocate rights in favor of the primary caregiver– the mother. And that’s not because of her gender. It’s because she is already a constant, consistent presence in the child’s life.

Unmarried fathers who have not been involved with their kids generally don’t get equal time with them right off the bat. So get involved, stay involved, and seek an appropriate court order as soon as possible. That’s how you establish single fathers’ rights.

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