Spouses are not the only ones who might deal with child custody when they separate. Unmarried couples with a child will likely need to discuss custody should they break up. Generally, married and unmarried couples have the same parental rights, including the right to seek custody of their child, but the issue can become more complex in the latter.
Paternity and pursuing custody
In Pennsylvania, the birth certificate often bears only the mother’s name when unmarried parents have a child. This means the law recognizes only the mother as the child’s biological parent, even when both parents profess to be in a relationship at the time of birth.
To secure legal recognition, the father usually has to acknowledge paternity by signing the child’s birth certificate or an affidavit. Doing so generally gives them the same parental rights as the mother.
Should the unmarried father refuse to acknowledge paternity, the mother may ask the court to conduct a DNA test. If the test confirms the child’s paternity, the father usually gains the right to pursue custody and the mother to seek child support.
As with married couples, unmarried partners often have to devise a custody and support arrangement when they separate. For instance, they might decide on a co-parenting or visitation schedule that suits their situation.
If they cannot agree, they might go to court and have a judge intervene. The court will usually examine factors like the parents’ backgrounds and financial capabilities when deciding, focusing on ensuring the child’s best interests.
Determining custody is rarely straightforward, so having an advocate who understands family law can be very beneficial. A family law attorney can help protect the rights of parents and children and assist them in securing fair outcomes.