What Happens if the Parents are not Married?

The traditional view of the American family might have included husband, wife, and children years ago, but today’s version does not follow such rigid definitions. Couples often have children out of wedlock, in which case the official identity of the child’s father is not presumed by law as it is with married parents. To establish parentage, it is necessary to meet the requirements of South Carolina laws on paternity.

Generally, there are two options:

  1. Parents can sign a Paternity Acknowledgement Affidavit, which both agree on the father’s identity; or,
  2. A parent can file a paternity case in court and have a judge decide parentage, which is usually accomplished via DNA testing.

If one or both parents do not take these actions, paternity does not exist. The father’s name is not on the birth certificate, and the child does not have a father for purposes of South Carolina law. Establishing parentage requires affirmative steps, and a Charleston paternity lawyer can assist with the process. An overview can also help you understand what happens if the parents are not married.

Implications for Unmarried Parents

When parentage is not officially established by law, there are different consequences depending on your position:

  • Because there is no other legal parent, the mother is automatically granted full child custody. She can make all decisions involved with raising the child, including those related to education, religion, health care, and extracurricular activities. As the parent with sole legal custody, the mother is also entitled to child support – though there is no one to seek it from without a decision on paternity.
  • The child’s father has no right to child custody or power to participate in important decision-making, and he has no legal basis to request visitation. Until paternity has been officially established, the father is not obligated to pay child support.

Why Disputes Arise

It would be easy to say that disagreements are financial, and most fathers are just trying to get out of paying support, but it is also not true. Some fathers are frustrated by the fact that they became a parent accidentally, or at least without being able to provide input. Many more are motivated by a desire to create a close parent-child relationship, so they want to establish paternity for purposes of custody and visitation.

How Paternity Affects Parental Rights

After determining legal paternity, the mother and father have rights that are similar to what would happen if they were married and subsequently divorced. A father can request child custody and visitation, though decisions in these areas must comply with South Carolina’s law on the child’s best interests. The nonresidential parent, potentially the father, will also be ordered to pay child support.

Contact Our Charleston Paternity Attorneys for Details

For more information about parentage and what happens when the child’s parents are not married, please contact the Peck Law Firm at (843) 631-7117 or via our website. We can schedule a consultation with a South Carolina family lawyer who can explain details.

Recommendations For Additional Reading

How to Explain a Parenting Time Schedule
The Downsides of Exactly Equal Parenting
Can I Minimize How My Children Are Affected By Divorce?