In Pennsylvania — just like the rest of the country — it is not uncommon for unmarried couples to have and raise children together, and for the most part, this arrangement will not lead to excessive legal friction until the couple decides to “split up.” Fundamentally, the issue in Pennsylvania is that when an unmarried couple has a child together, paternity is not automatically established. The father’s name is not automatically placed on the child’s birth certificate.
When paternity is not established, there may be difficulties relating to the rights and obligations of the father.
Suppose, for example, that an unmarried couple have and raise a child together. They live together as a family. Eventually, however, the couple decide to end their relationship and cooperative living arrangement. The situation is suddenly complicated, especially since the father never bothered to establish paternity over his child.
Does the father have custody or visitation rights? Is the father obligated to make child support payments?
Let’s take a brief look at the law.
Pennsylvania Paternity Rights and Obligations
In the state of Pennsylvania, paternity grants the father certain rights and subjects them to certain obligations. More specifically, a father that has failed to establish his paternity cannot request custody or visitation from the family court. A father that has established his paternity may do so — and is also obligated to pay child support (only if a child support court order has been executed, of course).
It is worth keeping in mind that a father need not establish his paternity to gain custody and visitation rights, or to pay child support. Unmarried couples are perfectly free to negotiate outside of the courts and come to an agreement on custody, visitation, and child support on their own. In the event of serious conflict or disagreement between the couple, however, establishing paternity will likely be necessary.
How to Establish Paternity
Pennsylvania law grants fathers two options for establishing paternity: 1) voluntarily, and 2) involuntarily.
Voluntarily Establishing Paternity
If both the mother and father consent to the fact that the father is the biological father, then they may sign a Voluntary Acknowledgment of Paternity form and file it with the Department of Public Welfare. Once the form is processed, the father will be deemed the biological and legal father of the child.
Involuntarily Establishing Paternity
Of course, in tense or otherwise high-conflict situations, one of the parties may not actually want to sign a Voluntary Acknowledgement of Paternity. For example, if the father does not want to pay child support, he might not consent to signing the form and establishing his paternity. Until the mother establishes his paternity, a court cannot order him to pay child support. Similarly, if the mother does not want to allow the father to have visitation rights, then she might not consent to signing the form and giving the father the chance to demonstrate his paternity.
In such situations, paternity will have to be established involuntarily. This can be done through a court proceeding, where the paternity of the child is disputed. The party interested in establishing paternity can file a petition with the family court. When paternity is decided, an order of paternity will be issued by the court.
Call our office today to discuss your situation with an experienced Pittsburgh custody attorney here at Pollock Begg Komar Glasser & Vertz LLC. We will help you find a solution that best fits your needs and protects your future.