What are the Rights of Unmarried Parents?

Board Certified Family Law Specialist Matt Arnold answers the question: “How is the amount of child support decided in North Carolina?”


The family dynamic has been changing over the last several decades. Today it is much more acceptable to give birth to children out of wedlock. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, CDC, approximately 40.5% of all live births in the United States in 2020 were to unmarried women. While there are many children born to single parents, there are many issues that may arise in regards to child care, custody, support, and visitation. Both parents need to understand their obligations, responsibilities and rights when it comes to their biological children.


Which Parent Has Custody?


There are two types of custody that include physical and legal. Physical custody refers to the location where a child resides while legal custody means having the right to make decisions for the child, such as those regarding education, religion, medical care, and more. Generally, married parents share custody of their children if they get a divorce. Parents share custody in cases where parents were married.


Children of divorced parents will typically spend time with both of them. When an unmarried woman has a child in North Carolina, she is the primary custodial parent. This is true even if the father provides child support. An unmarried father must establish paternity through the courts before he can make any claims for custody or visitation. While a mother may permit the unmarried father to participate in the child’s life, the only way to protect those rights is through the courts.


Establishing Paternity


In order for an unwed father to seek any type of court-ordered custody or visitation he must first establish paternity. North Carolina law states that paternity can be established by clear, cogent, and convincing evidence through a court action before the child turns 18. Paternity can be established with a voluntary acknowledgement of paternity or through a court order. The most convenient time to ensure paternity is through acknowledgement at the time of birth. When paternity is established, vital records will enter the father’s name on the child’s birth certificate.


Why Establish Paternity?


The mother or the father may wish to establish paternity of their child. It is important to note that once paternity is established a father has both rights and responsibilities. Parents may feel that the child has the right to know both parents. Once a father is legally established he can seek visitation or custody through the court system. Also, a father may then be legally obligated to provide child support. Once parentage is known, parents may both have rights to make legal decisions on behalf of the child. If a mother wants to request child support, you must first legally establish paternity. If a father wants to ensure visitation with a child, he must first make sure paternity is legally established in court.


Having children out of wedlock can make the parenting process more complicated. Parents may want to establish paternity and both parents may wish to be a part of their children’s lives.


To find out more about the legal process for establishing paternity, contact our legal team at Arnold & Smith, PLLC, at (704) 370-2828.






The family law practice group at Arnold & Smith, PLLC includes four Board-Certified Family Law specialists and one Child Welfare Law specialist, as well as several attorneys with many years of family law experience that are committed to providing a powerful voice to individuals facing the often-tumultuous issues in this area of law. The range of issues our family law clients may be facing include pre- and post-nuptial agreements; separation agreements; post-separation support; child support (both temporary and permanent); absolute divorce; divorce from bed and board; military divorce; equitable distribution of assets; child custody (both temporary and permanent); retirement benefits and divorce; alimony and spousal support; adoption; and emancipation. Because this area of the law is usually emotionally charged and complicated, the family law attorneys at Arnold & Smith, PLLC act with the utmost dedication to ensure that each client understands his or her options, and then act to achieve the best result possible for that client’s particular situation.








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