I talk to a lot of dads—many of whom have fathered children outside of marriage. When they ask about their rights (How to set up visitation, Can I keep the mother from moving away, etc.), they are inevitably surprised to learn that they have virtually no rights. Until they go to court and establish paternity, they are about as important as any other dude walking down the street. But you don’t have to take my word for it:
“When a child is born to an unmarried woman, legal custody of that child shall be in the woman giving birth to the child until the child reaches eighteen (18) years of age unless a court of competent jurisdiction enters an order placing the child in the custody of another party.”
Ark. Code Ann. § 9-10-113(a)
A father must sue to establish paternity before he has any rights in the eyes of the State of Arkansas. It is not only a father who can bring a paternity suit: the biological mother, putative (probable) father, the parent or grandparent of a deceased putative father, or child support enforcement. If the mother brings suit, a father can simply sign an acknowledgement of paternity, which pretty much settles the issue. (A father can rescind (or take back) this acknowledgment if he does does so before the court date or within 60 days, whichever is sooner.
If the guy doesn’t think he’s the father (or mom doesn’t think he’s the father), a party can request a scientific paternity test. Dad might also request a paternity test if he’s signed the birth certificate or put his name on the putative father registry, but dad will then bear the burden of proof to show that he’s not actually the father. (This burden can be overcome with a paternity test.)
After dad establishes paternity, he will be expected to pay child support and will have the right to regular visitation. Dad also has the right to seek custody of the children, but dad must show that he is fit, that he has provided for the child (or children), and it is in their best interest to be in Dad’s custody. Practically speaking, Mom is usually going to be able to keep custody unless Dad is able to show that Mom isn’t a good parent.
Establishing paternity is not a difficult process, but you will need help to make sure your rights are protected. Contact us today for a free consultation.