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Unmarried fathers may pursue custody and visitation

Figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reveal that 40 percent of children born around the country are born to parents who are not married. This figure was just 18.4 percent about a decade ago according to the public health institute. There is no legal presumption of parenthood when a child is born out of wedlock, so unmarried fathers In Pennsylvania must first establish paternity if they wish to pursue custody or visitation.

Establishing paternity is not necessary if the father's name appears on the child's birth certificate. When this is not the case, unmarried fathers can declare that they are the child's father by filing Voluntary Acknowledgement of Paternity Forms. In Pennsylvania, fathers can sign an Acknowledgement of Paternity form at the hospital where their child is born or obtain one from a County Assistance Office or Domestic Relations Section. There is no cost involved. When mothers refuse to sign these forms, genetic testing may be required to establish paternity.

Once paternity has been established, unmarried fathers have the same custody rights as divorced fathers. However, child custody decisions are made based on what judges consider to be the best interests of the child, and that generally means some sort of joint custody arrangement unless the mother involved is clearly unfit.

Children at the center of acrimonious custody battles often suffer great emotional harm, and experienced family law attorneys may seek to resolve these disputes at the negotiating table whenever possible. Parents are generally able to put their differences aside when the welfare of their children is at stake, but common ground can be difficulty to find when animosity and resentment run deep. In these situations, attorneys may suggest exploring an alternative approach such as mediation to break the stalemate and avoid protracted and costly litigation.

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