Unmarried Fathers’ Rights in South Carolina

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Child custody disputes are a part of many South Carolina divorces, but they take on a different nature when the parents who are fighting over custody are not married to each other. The simple fact is that unmarried fathers are treated differently and have more hurdles to overcome than married fathers. If you’re an unmarried father, you need to understand the steps it will take to acquire full parental rights. Let our experienced Greenville family attorney Angela Frazier advise and advocate for you.

Do Fathers Have Equal Rights in South Carolina?

Married parents and unmarried parents – in particular, unmarried fathers – do not have the same rights to custody and visitation. When a child is born into the marriage, the male parent is automatically presumed to be the father. While he may turn out later not to be the biological father, the initial presumption applies. If the parents later divorce, the husband and mother can both seek custody of the child.

The situation is different for unwed fathers. Unless and until a custody order is entered, the mother of a child born out of wedlock has sole custody. But before the father can even seek custody, he must first establish paternity. He won’t even have the right to visitation with his child before doing so.

Establishing Paternity in South Carolina

Establishing paternity is a process by which the child’s biological father becomes the legal father (meaning, the father has legal rights to custody and visitation). There are generally two ways to establish paternity. If you believe you are the child’s biological father and the mother agrees, you can both sign a Voluntary Paternity Acknowledgment. When the parents sign this form, the father is listed on the birth certificate as the child’s legal father. This can be done at the hospital after the child’s birth or later at DHEC Vital Records or any DHEC county health department.

Before signing the form, the parents may wish to take a genetic test to confirm that the man is the child’s biological father.

The other primary way to establish paternity is to take court action, which is necessary if the mother won’t sign the Voluntary Paternity Acknowledgment. In some cases, the mother is the one to bring a court action so she can establish the father’s paternity and request child support from him. But the father can also initiate a legal proceeding. Genetic testing will usually be required to determine that the individual is the child’s biological father. In deciding paternity, the court may consider:

  • Refusal to submit to genetic testing
  • Genetic test results that show a statistical probability of paternity
  • A verified voluntary acknowledgment of paternity
  • A foreign paternity determination
  • A birth certificate with the mother’s and putative father’s signature
  • An expert’s opinion as to the date of conception
  • The testimony of a husband and wife
  • Other relevant evidence

Custody Rights for Unmarried Fathers

If paternity is established by one of the above methods, the father and the mother will have equal parental rights. At this point, the father has the right to file for child custody. The father can file for custody or visitation at the same time he files for paternity, but the family court won’t address these matters until paternity is determined.

Even though the mother has sole custody rights until the biological father is determined to be the legal father, they are on an equal footing once paternity is established. That means the judge won’t give preference to either the mother or father simply because of their gender.

Instead, custody and visitation decisions are based on whatever is in the child’s best interests.

This may include factors such as each parent’s ability to care for the child, the character of both parents and the child’s living situation.

Issues Unmarried Fathers Could Face

Custody and visitation are perhaps the most obvious challenges that unmarried fathers deal with in South Carolina. As mentioned above, they start with the position of not having any custody or visitation rights while the mother has sole custody. Overcoming this may or may not be difficult based on the mother’s cooperation. If she is, the two can sign a Voluntary Paternity Acknowledgment and resolve child custody. Because custody is often a fight, mothers sometimes refuse to handle the issue amicably and, thereby, force the father to go to court to establish paternity.

Getting in front of a judge could take a while. During the wait, the father won’t have the right to see his newborn child and will lose precious bonding time. Additionally, until paternity is established, the father:

  • Will not have his name listed on the child’s birth certificate
  • Will not have a say in major decisions that will affect the child’s well-being
  • Has no right to be notified if the child is put up for adoption

How a Family Law Attorney at Elliott Frazier Law Firm Can Help

Don’t delay taking action if you have questions about unmarried fathers’ rights in SC. Retaining an experienced Greenville fathers’ rights attorney is key to spending time with your child. Our team helps fathers not only establish their paternity but also claim their custody and visitation rights. We handle all legal paperwork and guide you through the laws and court rules that apply to these types of cases.

That’s the level of comprehensive legal service you can expect from Elliott Frazier — Family, Personal Injury, & Car Accident Attorneys, LLC. Reach out to us to get started with your case.

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