When a married couple has a child conceived during the marriage, the child is presumed to be the biological child of both parents. This means that both parents have an equal right to share custody and parenting time.
When an unmarried couple has a child, paternity of the child needs to be established. This can happen through the voluntary action of the parents:
At times, the father doesn’t have the opportunity to acknowledge the child because:
In these cases, a paternity action may need to be filed by the father or mother to establish the father of the child. The mother will also want child support. If the father wants joint legal custody and parenting time, he must request it—because custody and parenting time are not automatically part of a paternity case. When a father voluntarily acknowledges paternity, the mother will have sole legal custody unless he files a paternity act asking for joint custody and parenting time.
The state may start a paternity action to establish the paternity of a child and obtain support for the child. If a father is the defendant, he should remember that the state is interested in obtaining support—including reimbursement for the cost of prenatal care and the birth—not in helping him obtain joint legal custody or parenting time.