Child Custody

What Are the Child Custody Laws for Unmarried Parents in North Carolina?

By November 14, 2019 October 11th, 2021 No Comments

Unmarried Parents

Under North Carolina, mothers and fathers do not stand on equal footing when they are unmarried. Instead, the mother has sole custody of the child until the father establishes paternity. In many cases, establishing paternity will not be controversial. Even when there is a dispute, DNA testing can conclusively establish paternity. For assistance, speak to a Wilmington divorce attorney.

Establishing Paternity

There are many ways to establish paternity under North Carolina law:

  • The mother and father can complete an affidavit pursuant to NCGS § 130A-101(f).
  • The mother and father can marry after the child’s birth pursuant to NCGS §49-12
  • A civil action to establish paternity under NCGS § 49-14
  • A special proceeding to legitimate a child under NCGS § 49-10 or 49-12.1
  • A criminal nonsupport action under NCGS § 49-2

Ideally, the parents can complete the affidavit, which will avoid the expense of a court proceeding. However, if there is a dispute about custody, then a court action could be unavoidable.

Parental Rights after Paternity Has Been Established

Once paternity is established, both mother and father have rights to custody. If they don’t live together, they can draft their own custody agreement, which will allocate time with the child and decision-making authority.

What happens if the parents cannot agree on custody? In this case, a judge will need to decide custody, just as a judge would when a married couple has a contested divorce. Judges decide custody based on the best interests of the child.

Rights when Paternity Has Not Been Established

If a man has not established himself as the father, then he does not have custody rights. Of course, he also is not on the hook for child support, either. Some paternity actions are brought by men hoping to establish a right to see the child, and others are brought by mothers hoping to drag a man into court and get him to pay child support.

If you want to see your child, then establishing paternity is a vital first step, even if the mother lets you voluntarily see the child. If the mother decides to cut off contact, and you have not established paternity, then you will not have a right to continue seeing the child.

Confused about Your Rights? Contact Speaks Family Law, PC

Having children out of wedlock is not unusual anymore. Nevertheless, the law for child custody still requires that men take certain steps to establish himself as the father. At our firm, we have handled many paternity actions as well as child custody disputes. For help with your case, please contact us today to schedule a free initial consultation. Call 910-769-7339.