When unmarried people have children together and seek court orders regarding child custody, visitation, child support and any other child related matters, then the court action in family court is called a paternity case and starts with the filing of a Complaint to Establish Parental Relationship. This kind of a case ends with a judgment identifying the legal mother and the legal father of the child and, as well, child support orders, child care, health insurance, etc.
There is usually no dispute over who is the child’s biological mother however who is deemed the father is often disputed. If the parents are married at the time of conception, then the child is presumed to be a child of this marriage and it takes an affirmative ruling to rebut the presumption. If the parents are not married, then there is no presumption of who is the biological or legal father hence the unmarried biological father has no inherent rights to custody or visitation unless/until a court makes such a ruling. Again, this would be accomplished in the paternity action.
If the father is present at the birth of the baby and signs a document at the hospital called a Voluntary Declaration of Paternity, then that father (even if he is not the biological father) has just signed to be forever legally bound to provide financial support for that child. So, a warning to all: If you are not the father of the baby, you should not sign that document at the hospital. To undo that legal obligation is very difficult if at all possible especially if you proceed to parent that child for a period of two (2) years after birth. In that instance, even if you are later found not to be the biological father and even if the mother lied to you about the baby being your baby, you will still have to support that child. In this instance you will be deemed the ‘presumed father’ even though you are not the biological father.
Often after the baby comes home, the mother decides to move in with her parents and does not want to live with the baby’s father. The father in this instance cannot force any visitation with the baby unless or until the father files his paternity claim in the family court and goes through the process and gets custody and visitation orders. Just as often after the baby comes home, the father decides he wants nothing to do with this event and leaves the mother with no child support contribution whatsoever. In this case, mother can go to Department of Child Support Services with her signed Voluntary Declaration of Paternity and seek enforcement of father’s child support obligation. Or she can file a paternity action to force not only the issue of child support, but also custody and visitation issues as well.
The most common problem is that the unwed parents are sharing the child and then there is some argument between them. Often then the mother refuses any more access to the child or the father refuses to return the child to the mother. Now the parents are engaged in a difficult custody tug of war and the baby is in the middle, suffering at the loss of time with either or both parents.
The perimeters to determine child custody and visitation are the same as that discussed under Child Custody andChild Visitation. The perimeters for determining the correct child support amount is the same as discussed under Child Support. The family court in a paternity action does NOT have the power to divide assets and debts of non married parties however the court can order such a division if the parties so stipulate.
Other child related issues to be handled in your paternity case include health insurance, therapy, transportation for visitation, costs of transportation for visitation, child care and child care costs, and any other issues pertaining to the health, education and welfare of the child.