What Unmarried Parents Should Know About Child Custody

Who has custody of a child born to unmarried parents?

Under Ohio law, when an unmarried woman gives birth to a child, she is the sole residential parent and legal custodian of the child unless and until a Court issues an order designated another person as the residential parent and legal custodian. 

How can a father become the legal custodian of a child or obtain visitation rights?

First, the father must establish paternity.  Paternity can be established in a number of ways.

  1. Acknowledgment of Paternity Affidavit- Typically this is signed at the hospital at the time of the child’s birth, but can also be completed at a local health department or a Child Support Enforcement Agency (CSEA). This can only be done if the mother consents.
  2. DNA Testing through Child Support Enforcement Agency (CSEA)-  This will be ordered if the mother applies for child support or if the father requests the establishment of paternity.  If the DNA results indicate paternity then a child support order will likely be put in place.
  3. File a Complaint in Court- In order to establish paternity in Juvenile Court, the Father must also file for allocation of parental rights and responsibilities.

Once paternity is established, or in the same action in the case of filing a complaint in juvenile court to establish paternity, the father can then file a petition with Juvenile Court requesting the Allocation of Parental Rights and Responsibilities.

Does the Court favor mothers over fathers when making a custody determination?

Under Ohio law, in cases of unmarried parents, once a father has establish paternity and files a complaint to allocate parental rights and responsibilities, a mother and father stand on equal footing.  This means that the Court cannot give preference to the mother when determining who will be the residential parent and legal custodian of the child.

Doesn’t paying child support give me a right to see my child?

Under Ohio law, a father is obligated to support his child and supporting a child does not give a father the right to visit with his child.  If a father wishes to have custody or visitation rights, he must file a petition with the Court.