Unmarried Parents: Who has rights to parenting time and parental responsibilities?

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When a child is born to married parents the husband is presumed to be the father. If the parents were never married, the mother has sole legal and physical custody until a court order says differently. A child born to unmarried parents will assume the mothers surname by default. A father can consent to have the child assume his last name.

An unmarried father has no legal rights to custody or visitation of the child. There is no presumption of paternity. Unwed fathers are not, by default, assumed to be biologically related to their children. Unwed fathers must take steps in order to establish paternity.

In 2017 23.5% of children born in Colorado were to unwed mothers.

According to Pew Research Center in 1968 unmarried parents consisted of

  • 88% were solo moms.
  • 12% solo dads.

In 2017 unmarried parents consisted of

  • 53% are solo moms.
  • 12% are solo dads.
  • 18% are cohabiting moms.
  • 17% are cohabiting dads.

Cohabitation is an arrangement where two single people are living together but are not married.

The legal definition of "Unwed mother" means a mother who was not married at the time of conception, at the time of birth or at any time between conception and birth.

In some cases there is an on going relationship out of wedlock between the mother and father. In others there is none or the relationship has come to an end. This situation creates grey area where neither side knows what their rights or parental responsibilities are.

When it comes to child support and custody the Court will always rule in what they believe are the "best interests of the child."

In Colorado, a paternity case can be initiated at any time before the child reaches the age of 18.

How does a father establish paternity?

When unwed the child's father is not automatically considered a legal father. Even if the father's name is on the child's birth certificate he needs to establish paternity. Maternity can be easily established but paternity may require some legal action.

Why would a father want to establish paternity? Paternity provides fathers with legal rights to his child. Rights include the right to seek visitation or custody.

The child receives benefits when a father formally establishes paternity. These benefits can include:

  • regular child support payments.
  • Veteran's benefits.
  • life insurance.
  • inheritance from the father.
  • Social Security from a disabled or deceased parent.
  • awareness of potential medical issues that could have been passed on from the biological father.

There are emotional benefits for the child as well. The understanding of who and where they came from. A child can develop low self-worth and low self esteem when dealing with doubt or questioning acceptance from their father. Studies show children can suffer to gain acceptance from their peers and perform poorly at school under these scenarios.

How does a father establish paternity?

In 1973, all states adopted the Uniform Parentage Act (UPA), which introduced a framework for establishing paternity for children of married and unmarried couples. The Act created a way for the courts to identify a child’s legal parents, regardless of marital status.

The UPA was updated in 2002 and 2017.

Updates according to the American Bar Association include:

The UPA (2002) added a streamlined, administrative voluntary
acknowledgment of paternity process for establishing parentage of nonmarital children as well as
provisions regarding genetic testing.

2017 - update the Act to ensure that it applies equally to children born to
same-sex couples.