It's a sad truth, but there are roughly 24 million children in the U.S. who do not live with their biological fathers. In many of these cases, there may not even be any contact. For these children, to grow up without their father not only takes away from the important bonding experience kids have with their parents, but in many cases it also means one less positive male adult role model in the child's life.
When an unmarried new father is hailed into court, the rulings usually involve financial determinations, not the role he will play in the child's life. One judge in Minnesota found that too often, even men who contributed financially faded from their children's lives. The same judge found that additional efforts need to be made to ensure that unmarried fathers uphold parenting obligations.
When a child is born to married parents, there is rarely any question over who the biological father of the child is. However, when a child is born out of wedlock, paternity is one of the questions that can arise.
More than a year ago we posted on one Missouri father's ongoing battle to get custody of his son. The claim was that his girlfriend had been suffering from postpartum depression when she signed away parental rights of the couple's 3-month-old baby without first consulting the father. Since he did not sign the birth certificate at the time of his son's birth, he was left with no legal rights to stop the adoption process.
Over the past five decades there has been a steady increase in the number of children born to unwed parents. In fact, nowadays, more than half of the children who are born to women under the age of 30 are also born to parents who are not married. And while there are several theories on this cultural shift, the fact remains that without proper precautions, unmarried men can end up losing their rights as parents more easily than those who are married.
According to recent statistics, births to unwed mothers reached an all-time high of about 40 percent. This is a trend that began years before. More than three-quarters of these women were 20 or older. According to Duke University's Philip Morgan, a legal researcher, for a variety of reasons, it's become more acceptable for women to have babies without a husband.
With national data showing the out-of-wedlock birth rate somewhere around forty-percent, paternity cases are on the rise and almost as common as divorce these days. When a child is born, but the parents were not married at the time of birth, and marriage was not an option for whatever reason, the appropriate case for a father to file to determine if he is dad and, if so, how child custody and support should work is by filing a paternity action filed in the circuit court in which the mother or alleged father live.