Like most Alabama parents, you want what is best for your child. When you became a father, your life changed in an instant, and you were amazed that someone so small could become your whole world. Although you expected there would be challenges throughout this new lifestyle called parenting, you may not have realized that your greatest challenge would lie in protecting your rights as a parent. At the time, you didn't think it was that big of a deal that you were not married to your child's mother.
It didn't take long for you to realize just how big a deal it was when it came time for you to request shared time with your son or daughter. Paternal rights in out-of-wedlock situations can be rather complicated. In wanting to fulfill your duties and obligations as a parent, you may also want to research Alabama law ahead of time so you know what you're in for, which will no doubt include a trip (or several) to court.
Legal facts regarding unmarried parenting
If there is any doubt in your mind whether you are, in fact, a particular child's biological parent, then being unmarried actually has an advantage, since no mother can request child support from you if your paternity has not been legally established. The following information may help you identify your own needs with regard to child custody, support or visitation, and other single parent-related issues:
- When children are born to married couples, the law presumes the husband is the biological father. This is why, if a divorce later occurs, the husband does not need to establish paternity.
- You may voluntarily sign a document claiming your biological and parental relationship with your child. In some situations, the court makes such declarations if active paternity cases exist.
- It's understandable that, as an unmarried father, you may feel slighted by a system that automatically grants 100 percent child custody to the mother, unless the father establishes paternity and sues for custody.
- Another downside issue concerns any monies you may have given your child's mother to help provide for him or her. If your paternity is not legally established and the court has not issued a child support order, then no money you have given (even if it's a million dollars) counts as child support; hence, if the court later issues an order, you may wind up paying all that, again, and more.
- Also, no matter how much time your spend with your child, if the court has not formally recognized your visitation and you are sued for child support, you may be ordered to pay the maximum amount because without visitation orders, the court will not acknowledge any time you spend with your child.
While going to court may not really be your cup of tea, having court orders to rely on and provide solid ground on which to stand if a problem arises is typically the best idea. You are obviously not the only unmarried parent in Alabama; in fact, there are many resources and support networks available to help people in your situation because it is so common.
One of the easiest ways to obtain guidance and assistance regarding establishing your paternity and protecting your parental rights in court is to discuss the issue with an experienced family law attorney.