If a child is born to unmarried parents, the mother is automatically granted sole custody rights. The father has no automatic custody rights, even if neither parent disputes the father’s status. Parents usually believe that naming a male on the child’s birth certificate establishes him as the father. That is not true—the birth certificate has no legal force. The father must obtain a court order, based either on the father’s agreement or genetic testing, establishing the identity of the child’s biological father.

After a paternity petition is filed, the judge will set an initial hearing. If the parents agree on the father’s identity, the judge will enter that order at the first hearing. If not, the parents will be ordered to submit to genetic testing. Once the father is determined by testing, the judge can then make the formal order. Whenever that order is made, the judge will then make an order for the legal custody and placement of the child between the parents. That procedure is basically the same as during divorce.

We routinely work with fathers and mothers to ensure that their parental rights, and the child’s best interests, are protected.