Custody can be a complex and emotionally-charged issue, regardless of your marital status. Unfortunately, even as society progresses, the process of seeking custody rights for unmarried fathers can feel even more complicated.
Nevertheless, it’s important to remember that unmarried fathers do have legal rights.
If you were unmarried at the time your child was born and are wondering what rights you may have, the Colorado custody attorneys at Plog & Stein P.C. are here to help. If you are on the child’s birth certificate, legal paternity has already been established and you can proceed with the filing of a traditional custody case. If not, you will first need to establish paternity. Below are some of the details you might need to know about Colorado custody laws for unmarried fathers.
Colorado Custody Laws: An Overview
Colorado law regarding child custody can be complicated, and there can be different things to consider when determining the rights of unmarried parents. Here are some key Colorado custody laws to be aware of as an unmarried father to help you navigate the process.
Do Unmarried Fathers Have Paternity Rights?
A common misconception is that unmarried fathers have very little or no parental rights. Fortunately, however, this is not the case.
In fact, Colorado Revised Statutes (C.R.S.) § 19-4-103 specifically states that the parent-child relationship extends to each parent, regardless of the parent’s marital status. That said, establishing a parent-child relationship might be the first step in establishing that legal relationship.
Is There a Paternity Presumption for Unwed Parents?
As a result of historical gender and domestic roles, mothers were often traditionally presumed to be the primary parent and caregivers. These days, however, society recognizes that this is not always the case. Colorado law recognizes this as well.
For example, according to C.R.S. § 19-4-105, an unmarried person is still presumed to be the natural parent of a child if:
- Genetic testing shows that the unmarried father is not excluded as the probable genetic parent with a probability of genetic parentage of 97% or higher; or
- The parent who gave birth to the child and the other parent sign a voluntary acknowledgment of parentage.
Notably, the person who gives birth to the child does not need to take any affirmative steps to establish that they are the parent. However, although certain presumptions exist, an unmarried father will need to take some action to establish paternity, unless he is on the child’s birth certificate.
The easiest way to establish paternity for an unmarried father is to sign your name on the birth certificate. But how do you prove paternity if you weren’t able or allowed to sign the birth certificate?
To establish paternity and establish your parental rights, an unmarried father will have to petition the court to formally declare the existence of the father-child relationship. The court will then order a genetic test to determine whether the petitioner is, in fact, the natural father of the child.
If the paternity test does confirm parentage, the court will enter an order for paternity.
That said, there are certain exceptions in situations involving adoption and assisted reproduction. Thus, be sure to consult with an experienced lawyer to discuss the particular facts and circumstances surrounding your case.
Child Custody Considerations
Once you establish paternity, the next step is determining custody rights, such as parenting time, visitation rights, and other allocations of parental responsibilities.
Colorado courts will consider several factors when determining custody rights between two unwed parents. However, the most important factor is the best interests of the child. When determining what is in the best interest of the child when it comes to custody, the court must consider all relevant factors, including the:
- Wishes of the child’s parents with respect to parenting time;
- Wishes of the child, if the child is determined to be mature enough to express a reasoned opinion on the matter;
- Existence of any reports of domestic violence;
- Child’s adjustment to their home, school, and community;
- Mental and physical health of the individuals involved;
- Ability of each respective parent to encourage love, affection, and contact between the child and the other parent;
- Physical proximity of the parents to each other as it pertains to considerations of parenting time; and
- Ability of each parent to place the needs of the child above their own needs or wishes.
Importantly, a judge cannot establish custody, parenting time, visitation rights, and other related matters until you’ve established paternity. Thus, proving paternity as an unmarried father should always be one of your first priorities.
Contact a Qualified Attorney Today
Determining custody rights for unmarried fathers is crucial, and it all starts with proving paternity. If you have questions about your rights as an unmarried father, look no further than Plog & Stein P.C.
Since 1999, our experienced attorneys have helped countless parents as they traverse various legal battles in an effort to protect their rights and those of their children. When you hire our team, you can feel confident knowing that we will fight zealously for your rights at every step along the way. Contact us today to discuss your case and see what we can do for you.