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How the law treats unmarried fathers

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 40 percent of children in the country are born to parents who are not married. This is an increase from 18.4 percent in 2007. Unmarried fathers in Maryland and other states do have rights to their children, and the first step in obtaining those rights is to establish paternity. Doing so can be as simple as including the father's name on the child's birth certificate.

In some cases, a paternity test may need to be conducted, and a mother's participation in such a proceeding can be compelled by a court. Unmarried men may also be able to get themselves placed on a putative father registry. This will keep a man updated about any proceedings related to a child he believes is his. Once paternity is established, a father may be entitled to custody rights and have a responsibility to provide financially for the child.

If the parents are living together, there is generally no need for a formal custody or support order. However, these can be created if the parents end their relationship or stop living together for any reason. Child custody arrangements are made based on the fitness of the parents and the best interests of the child. Child support orders are based on a parent's income and the needs of the child.

The best interests of the child are the top priority in a family law case. Therefore, if a man establishes himself as the father of a child, he may be entitled to legal or physical custody. Fathers who are in this position might want to meet with a family law attorney to see what options they might have.

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