What Are My Rights as an Unwed Parent?
As many as half of all children born in South Carolina are to unwed parents. Whether you are the child’s mother or father, the way that the law treats your rights is different than if you were married to your child’s other parent.
Do Unwed Parents Have Equal Rights?
According to South Carolina law, Section 63-5-30, parents who are married have equal rights. Specifically, the law states that “neither parent has any right paramount to the right of the other concerning custody of the minor…”
This is different when the parents are unwed. In those cases, Section 63-17-20(B) applies, which gives full custody to the child’s mother. According to the law, the natural mother maintains sole custody of an illegitimate child unless she relinquishes her parental rights.
This does not mean that the father cannot establish rights to a child. If paternity has been established, a father has the right to petition the court for custody or visitation rights. Putting a father’s name on a birth certificate is not the same thing as establishing paternity, so a mother still has full rights even in this situation.
How is Paternity Established in South Carolina?
When married, a man is presumed to be the father of a child born during the marriage. Establishing paternity outside of marriage is more complicated. One way to do this is through an action of paternity, which can be filed by several parties. Those who can file this include the presumed father, the mother, the child, or the Department of Social Services (DSS).
As a father, you have several choices when it comes to paternity. You can acknowledge it, contest it, or do nothing. With the last two options, the courts can compel a genetic paternity test as well as the payment of child support.
As a mother, establishing paternity can have long-lasting consequences. It could mean that your child’s father must be financially responsible through child support payments. This can also give the child’s father partial custody or visitation rights.
What Happens if There is an Out of Court Agreement?
Some custody and visitation agreements are done outside of a courtroom, meaning they are voluntary and could even be informal. Even if you have an agreement that is witnessed and notarized, it is not enforceable by a judge. The existence of an agreement like this, however, could be used as evidence by an unwed parent who wants to establish or keep custody or visitation rights to a child.
Does the Payment of Child Support Entitle a Father to Parental Rights?
Some unwed parents voluntarily pay child support to the other. This is also not a guarantee of parental rights in South Carolina. However, if a parent is paying child support due to a DSS judgment, it will entitle them to equal rights to the child. When the DSS processes a case, particularly involving a father, they will also have an official paternity judgment. Once the DSS declares that a person is the father of your child, that person legally shares parental rights.
Speak with a Qualified South Carolina Family Law Attorney
The custody and family law attorneys at The Cate Law Firm have helped parents throughout upstate South Carolina deal with these complex issues. We understand that each case is unique and the way the courts view your case could depend on a variety of factors.
As a full-service law firm, we can explain your options and take measures to protect your parental rights. If you have questions about your rights as a mother, father, or other relative, we urge you to get in touch with us to discuss your situation. Contact our office now at 864-585-4226 or reach us online to schedule an initial consultation.