When a child’s parents have never been married, there can be unique custody issues. The main legal issue is determining paternity. Until a father has established paternity, he won’t be able to seek custody.
Married parents have equal rights to obtain custody of their child. Different laws apply to unmarried parents. Section 63-17-20(B) states that the natural mother has sole custody in the case of a child born out of wedlock.
Before a father can seek custody, he needs to establish paternity. The man claiming paternity can bring an action to establish paternity, as can the natural mother of the child.
A mother may bring a paternity case because she wants the father to provide financial support for the child. The alleged father can choose to acknowledge paternity or content paternity. If he does nothing, he may be determined to be the father by default.
A father may bring a paternity action to get custody or visitation rights. In either case, the court can order genetic testing to determine paternity. A refusal to take a genetic test can be used as evidence of paternity.
Rights and Responsibilities of Paternity
Paternity comes with rights and responsibilities. Fathers can petition the court for visiting or custody rights, but may also need to financially support their child.
This can sometimes present a difficult situation if a man has been acting as a child’s father. The man may be unsure whether he should acknowledge paternity, but that means he may lose the right to be in the child’s life.
Custody After Paternity is Established
Once paternity is established, both parents will be on equal footing before the court. Neither the father or mother will be given any preference, and the court will award custody based on the best interests of the child.
The court will look at many factors to determine custody. Either parent may be awarded sole custody, or the court can choose to give each parent joint custody.
If you are involved in a paternity case, be sure you understand how this determination could affect a potential custody dispute. Consult a South Carolina family law attorney before you take any legal actions that could have unintended consequences.
At King Law Office, we understand the challenges involved in any family law matter. Our goal is to help guide you through this process and listen to your concerns. Come visit us at one of our 13 office locations, including Charlotte, Asheville, and Concord.