Colorado laws are designed specifically to recognize the parental rights of all types of fathers, wedded to the child's mother or not. However, if you were never legally married, there are certain steps involved in getting your parental rights.
Rights of an Unwed Father
In general, the father of a child from an unmarried relationship is not automatically given full parenting rights. The child is legally in the custody of the mother, even if the father is present at the birth and signs the birth certificate. When couples agree to co-parent the child as mother and father, there are usually few issues. But some may appear in the future.
Because the mother has legal custody, she can refuse parental rights of visitation and decision-making to the unwed father. If that ever happens, the father must then take legal steps in order to establish his parental status to get the rights he wants.
How to Claim Paternity Rights
There are definite steps involved in this process for unmarried fathers:
First, the father must establish paternity. When the child is born, in addition to the birth certificate, there is also an Acknowledgement of Paternity form that the father can complete right at the hospital. This is the easiest way to establish legal paternity. But if the form was not completed, then the form will have to be completed at your local county vital records office.
Secondly, if the mother is not cooperative in the legal paternity effort, the father can request that the court force DNA testing. The mother will then have to have that DNA test completed on the child, and the results will be compared to the father’s test. This will establish legal paternity. Doing so may be a wise step anyway if there is any doubt on the part of the father about his paternity. It should be noted here, that a father can file for paternity at any time between birth and the age of 18.
However, getting legal paternity status does not automatically entitle a father to any specific rights of visitation, decision-making, or custody. These are matters that will require court actions. If the relationship is amicable, then both parents may be able to work out agreements in all of these areas. However, the father needs to be aware that if these agreements are not solidified in court, the mother can reverse her decision at any time and he will have no recourse.
How to Get Parental Rights Legally Established
Even if the father's relationship with the mother is friendly right now, it is in his best interest to have his parenting rights legally established through the courts. Depending upon the level of involvement wanted, he should have specific agreements regarding custody, visitation, financial support, and decision-making. This protects his rights in the future should he and the mother have issues later on.
A Judicial Paternity Order is a good route to take for a father to protect his parental rights over the long-term. To petition for paternity, however, he or the child’s mother must first apply for child support. Once this happens, he can officially petition the local district form for establishing paternity. Both parents will have to fill in the required forms, and a father can also request genetic testing. Once the responses have been completed and the genetic testing results confirmed, the father’s name goes on the birth certificate, and other orders can be put into place, such as child support and health insurance responsibility.
Ultimately, the best course of action to establish paternity and to ensure involvement in a child’s life is to consult with an attorney, discuss all of the details of the situation, and take his or her advice on how to proceed. Tolison and Williams is here to help you with any questions.