In Ohio, the father of a child born to an unmarried woman has no legal rights to the child until he obtains a court order granting him parenting time and/or custodial rights. When a child is born to an unmarried woman, she is the sole residential parent and legal custodian of the child pursuant to Ohio Revised Code §3109.042 . This is a rebuttable statutory presumption. Single mothers do not always retain “sole custody” in Ohio.
A father must petition a court for parenting time and/or parental rights and to establish paternity. A juvenile court will the exercise jurisdiction over the parents and the minor child and issue orders that it determines are in the best interest of the minor child. Depending on the facts of each case, a father may obtain equal rights to make decisions in the life of the minor child (also known as shared parenting). It is a myth that unmarried fathers will only be awarded “visitation” with their child. In many cases, fathers are able to obtain shared parenting and equal decision making in regards to their child.
In order to obtain parenting rights to a child born to an unmarried mother, a father must establish paternity. There are several ways an unmarried father can establish paternity in Ohio. Paternity may be established by affidavit which is usually done at the hospital time of the child’s birth. This can also be done later at a local registrar, health department or Child Support Enforcement Agency. Establishing paternity through the Child Support Enforcement Agency is not usually recommended unless the parents want to start child support proceedings. If paternity is established via affidavit, the mother’s consent is required, and the father gives up his option to have DNA testing before paternity is established. This is method is not recommended if the father has any doubts regarding his paternity of the child and can have long-lasting effects if it is later determined that he is not the father of the child.
Another method to establish paternity is to participate in DNA testing either through the child support enforce agency (which requires the mother’s consent unless the agency initiates child support collection action on its own) or by filing an action in court to establish paternity as part of the complaint to establish the allocation of parental rights and responsibilities (formerly known as custody). A court can then order paternity testing and the mother’s consent is not required. This method alleviates any doubt regarding paternity of the minor child at the beginning of any legal proceedings.
It is important to request an order establishing parenting time with the minor child when requesting the court to determine custody as unmarried fathers have no rights to parenting time until they obtain an order from the court. Ohio law provides that once parentage has been established, a court must consider the mother and father as on equal standing when determining the allocation of parental rights and responsibilities. Again the court is guided by statutory factors to determine the parenting time of each parent with the minor child that is in the minor child’s best interest.
Contact Joseph Stafford, 216.241.1074, to further discuss your rights and to determine a plan of action that is best for you and your child.