Unmarried Parents

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Unmarried Parent’s Rights In Ohio

In Ohio, if you were never married when your child was born, Mother is the Sole Legal Custodian.  Father does not have any physical or legal custodial rights; unlike the Father who would share custody with Mother if the child was born during wedlock 

If you are reading this you probably realized that parental role and marital status determine your rights under Ohio law,   An unmarried man does not have custody of his child.  A Father may say, “but I am on the birth certificate, ” or “I did a DNA test,” of “I pay child support.” Sadly, that is not enough. Legal Custody is automatically granted to the mother.  Father must go to Court to establish his custody and parenting time. Further, if Father has not yet established paternity, he must do that also.  You can find out more about this in my section on Paternity.   

Parents may choose to live together and raise their child; or the parents may not live together and one parent may need support to raise the child. If this is the case, the parent will need to seek an order to obtain child support. 

 The parent who isn’t living with the child (often the father), will need to go to court to establish his rights. First, if he hasn’t already, he must establish paternity which is the legal process that declares a man to be the father of a child. There are three ways to do this. 

Father can sign an Acknowledgement of Paternity stating that he is the child’s Father.  Through this document, the presumption arises that the signer is the father, which no one will question, unless another person comes forward stating they are.  Parents often complete this affidavit at this hospital when their child is born, or later even. 

If paternity isn’t established through the Acknowledgement, often because Father may be uncertain whether he is actually the father, or Mother may not agree to do the Acknowledgement,  Father can then choose to do Genetic Testing to determine if he is the child’s father.  This can be done privately or through the Child Support Enforcement Agency.  This is an easy process, but what if the mother or father refuse to participate.  You then need to seek an order from the court to force the unwilling parent into participation. 

If either two of these methods weren’t completed, parents can acknowledge that a man is the Father of his child through sworn testimony in Court.  This is an accepted method of establishing paternity. 

Once paternity is established, fathers interested in obtaining custody and visitation with their child must petition for a court order. At this point, courts must treat unmarried mothers and fathers equally and avoid favoring either parent based on gender.
Courts look to the  “best interest factors” when establishing custody and visitation. Some of these factors include:

  • The Parent’s wishes;
  • The Child’s wishes;
  • The child’s adjustment into the home, community, and school;
  • The physical and mental health of the parents;
  • Whether a parent is more likely to honor the court order;
  • Whether parents can work together jointly;
  • The Parent’s ability to encourage a positive relationship with the other parent.

Parents who work together can agree to a parenting schedule.  When possible, judges often prefer parents to share custody of their child; however this is not always possible.  When parents do not agree, sadly, the Court may have to. It will then be the Judge who determines who has custody and what the parenting schedule will be.


Don't hesitate to contact Catherine M. White, Attorney at Law to begin discussing your case.


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