When married parents welcome a child into their lives, they have joint custody of that child. Unmarried parents, however, do not necessarily have the same legal benefits, even if they are in a committed relationship. What should unmarried parents know about custody under Ohio law?
What does the law say about unmarried mothers?
When unmarried women give birth to a child in Ohio, they are automatically the child’s residential parent and have legal custody unless the court names another person. This allows mothers to make major decisions about their child’s life, including decisions about their medical treatment, their education and their religious upbringing.
What does the law say about unmarried fathers?
While unmarried mothers generally have legal custody once a child is born, the same is not true for unmarried fathers. Even if a child’s father is listed on a child’s birth certificate, unmarried fathers may need to take additional legal steps to establish paternity and protect their parental rights. These steps can include:
- An Acknowledgement of Paternity Affidavit — If a child’s unmarried parents agree on that child’s parentage, they can sign this form to establish a father’s paternity.
- Establishing paternity through a county child support enforcement agency (CSEA) — The CSEA can formally determine a child’s parentage through DNA testing.
- Establishing paternity by filing a complaint — Just as a local CSEA can order genetic testing to establish paternity, the court can oversee this formal process after either parent files a complaint.
If parents do not get along, establishing paternity can be an important first step for fathers who want to gain visitation or custody of that child. Once a child’s paternity is established, both parents must have equal opportunity to show the court that they are a fit parent.
Unmarried fathers hoping to protect their parental rights may also want to keep a record of their visits with their child. This can help show that they have a strong relationship with their child and that they are active, engaged parents.