While it might seem safe to assume that unwed fathers automatically have parental rights, if the father doesn’t provide evidence of his paternity, he can be denied child custody and visitation rights. Here’s what unwed fathers should know if they plan on entering a custody battle.

How can an unwed father establish his paternity?

If a couple is married when the baby is born, the husband is legally assumed to be the father and has parental rights if the couple splits up. However, if the couple wasn’t married and the father’s name isn’t on the birth certificate, the court might rule that he has no right to child custody or visitation.

To prove that he is the biological father of the child, the father might have to take a paternity test. If he successfully proves his paternity, he now has a legal standing in custody battles. Most courts tend to rule in the mother’s favor, so he’ll have to prove that the mother is an unfit parent if he wants full custody.

Once he’s established paternity, the father will likely have to pay child support until the child turns 18. The only way to avoid paying child support is to have his parental rights terminated, which essentially revokes his status as the child’s father.

How can parents get help with child custody disputes?

An attorney may be able to help parents with child custody, child support and visitation disputes. The attorney may help the parents act in the best interests of the child and figure out what works for their schedules. They might also be able to negotiate a deal with the client’s former spouse that works out for both parties.