Being a father can be one of life’s most rewarding experiences, but for fathers who are not married to their child’s mother, the situation can become complicated. It is important to understand that fathers do have significant rights in the state of Maryland, even if they are not married to their child’s mother.
Here is what you need to know about unmarried fathers’ rights in Maryland.
Establishing Paternity is Essential
From a legal standpoint, any child who is born to unmarried parents in the state of Maryland does not technically have a father. An unmarried father needs to sign the child’s birth certificate and obtain an affidavit of parentage before the child reaches 18, which is the age of majority. Unmarried fathers rights will only be enforced in Maryland if paternity has been officially established.
As an unmarried father, there are several reasons that you need to establish paternity. Matters related to custody, child support and visitation all depend on paternity being established. You may not be able to apply for visitation rights or child custody if Maryland courts do not recognize you as the child’s legal father.
Establishing a Father’s Rights in Maryland
When a married couple has a child, the husband is automatically assumed to be the child’s father. For unmarried couples, however, a father can miss out on the opportunity to build a relationship with their child if they fail to establish paternity.
A court determination of paternity is the standard method of establishing paternity. However, unmarried fathers may also acknowledge paternity either in writing or by marrying the mother of the child and then acknowledging themselves as the child’s father.
If a father has any doubts about the child’s paternity, they should not sign an affidavit of parentage until they have obtained a DNA test to determine the child’s true biological father. In cases where this is not in doubt, many unmarried couples choose to sign an affidavit of paternity at the hospital when the child is born.
After this affidavit has been signed, it will be filed with the Office of Vital Statistics, and the named father will become the biological and legal father of the child.
In some cases, it may be necessary to go to court to establish paternity, such as when a man believes that he is the father of a woman’s child and she denies it. A court could request genetic tests to determine if the supposed father is indeed the true biological father of the child. If so, a final order of affiliation may be issued naming the man as the child’s legal and biological father.
For unmarried fathers who have established themselves as a child’s father, the child custody laws in Maryland are the same as they are for married parents. The state is no longer giving preference to the mother in determining who is the custodial parent. Instead, the focus is on creating healthy relationships between a child and both parents.
When parents are separated, both parents can request custody of their child in court. If the parents are not able to agree on the matter, the court may decide whether to grant sole or joint custody per state standards.
They take into consideration what is in the best interests of the child when determining both legal and physical custody. Legal custody confers a parent or parents the right to make crucial decisions in their children’s lives, including medical care, religious training and education. Physical custody is the right to spend time with the child and make smaller decisions about everyday needs.
A court may grant these rights to both parents jointly or to one parent, depending on the circumstances. Some of the factors they may take into consideration include the stability of each parent’s living situation, financial factors that can enable them to provide the child with a stable living situation, nearby friends and family that can influence the child’s quality of life, and the school the child would attend.
In cases where a mother is a child’s custodial parent, the child’s father is entitled to what is known as “reasonable visitation”. In this case, the courts allow the parents to determine suitable times and durations for visits, and both parents work together to find an agreement that is suitable for all parties.
In cases where they are unable to agree on this, the judge could give an order enforcing the father’s visitation right. Many times, judges will issue a fixed visitation schedule with definitive times at which the father will have visitation.
Contact the Maryland Family Law Attorneys
If you are looking to establish custody of your child or exercise your parental rights, contact the Maryland family law attorneys at SIEGELLAW to schedule a consultation.