In North Carolina, an unmarried mother has sole legal and physical custody of a child when the child is born. Even if the unmarried mother and father are together, the man has no legal rights over the child without establishing paternity. An unmarried father will have to establish paternity if he wants custody or visitation time with the child.
An unmarried father can establish legal paternity any time before the child is 18 years old. Unless he plans to marry the mother of the child, a man will have to sign an Affidavit of Parentage or file a Complaint to Establish Paternity in court to establish paternity of the child.
- Affidavit of Parentage: The affidavit of parentage is a legally binding document that states the a man is the legal father of the baby. The man generally signs the affidavit at the hospital when the baby is born. This is a fairly straightforward process that is appropriate when there are no questions or doubts about the biological father’s identity.
- Complaint for Establishment of Paternity: An unmarried father or a mother can also bring a paternity action in court. The judge will typically order genetic testing in a paternity action. If the test shows a higher than 97 percent likelihood that the man is the biological father of the child, the judge will likely grant paternity.
There are several benefits for an unmarried father to establish paternity. Paternity allows him to bring an action in court to establish visitation and custody. It also allows the child to qualify for the unmarried father’s benefits, such as Social Security or health insurance. Additionally, unmarried fathers with legal custody can also access their child’s medical history records.
There are also benefits for the mother and child. After establishing paternity, the unmarried mother can ask the court for the unmarried father to pay child support. And when children know who their biological father is, they can have a relationship with him and a better understanding of where they came from.