Parental Rights of Unmarried Parents

My ex-girlfriend won’t let me see our baby since we broke up, can she do that? Don’t I have the same rights as she does?

My boyfriend says that if I leave, he’ll keep our daughter and I’ll never see her again. Can he keep my baby from me?

In Ohio, courts treat married and unmarried parents very differently. A child born during a marriage is presumed to be the child of the husband. During a divorce, married parents have equal parental rights regarding the children and are treated as equal by a court when determining custody. When a child is born to unmarried parents, the unmarried mother automatically has sole custody of the child. The unmarried father has no rights until paternity is established and he petitions the court for custody, shared parenting and/or parenting time.

The first step that an unmarried father must take in establishing parental rights is to determine paternity. Paternity is a biological relationship between the child and the father. Paternity is typically established in one of two ways, either by the parents’ signing an affidavit acknowledging paternity at the time of the child’s birth or by genetic testing. There cannot be a child support order or an order regarding custody of the child until paternity has been established.

Even after paternity has been established, an unmarried father has no automatic parental rights, including parenting time, visitation or the right to claim the child for taxes. This is true even if there is a child support order in place. In order to define his rights, an unmarried father must petition the court for an allocation of parental rights and responsibilities, commonly referred to as custody and visitation. In contrast, an unmarried mother automatically has sole custody, meaning she is the sole decision maker for the child, until a court issues an order otherwise.

If you are an unmarried mother or father and have questions regarding your rights, contact one of our family law attorneys to discuss your case.