In the 21st Century, it is not unusual for unmarried parents to have children. Perhaps these parents are divorced or have no intention of marrying because they are children of divorce. The reasons for having children out of wedlock vary and are very personal, but regardless of the reasons for having children outside of the institution of marriage, it’s frequency has raised issues in the family courts over the rights of unmarried fathers.
Child Custody Laws in Iowa for Unmarried Parents
When a child is born to married parents, the woman’s husband is automatically presumed to be the child’s father. But when a child is born to unmarried parents, who has custody? Paternity must be legally established before the father can have rights. So, until paternity is established, the family courts cannot issue orders for child support or child custody.
Unmarried parents have equal rights in Iowa, but that does not mean that the parents will be treated equally when it comes to custody and visitation decisions. Fathers often have it much harder, since their parentage is not automatically recognized. It is vital to establish paternity in order to fight for your unmarried fathers' rights in Iowa.
Establishing Paternity in Iowa
To “establish paternity,” means to establish who a child’s legal father is. Once paternity is established, a mother can ask for child support, and a father can seek visitation or even child custody, but it goes much further than that.
When paternity is officially established, the child gains the right to know his or her family medical history. The child also gains inheritance rights under Iowa law, rights to Social Security under the father’s work record, rights to healthcare coverage from both parents, and financial support from the father, not to mention the child gets to know who their father is, which can be very important to the child’s peace of mind and wellbeing.
Two Ways to Establish Paternity
Generally, there are two ways for single fathers to establish paternity in Iowa. One, they can voluntarily sign the Affidavit of Paternity at the hospital after the child’s birth. But to do this, the form must have the mother’s signature. Such affidavits must include statements from both parents confirming the child’s paternity, the child’s birth information, each parent’s Social Security number, and both parents’ signatures before a notary.
If the mother refuses to sign the Affidavit of Paternity for any reason, or if the alleged father refuses to sign the form because he is not 100 percent sure he is the father, court action will be necessary. In this situation, the mother or alleged father may ask the court for a blood or genetic (DNA) test. If the genetic testing confirms that the man is, in fact, the father, paternity will be legally established and the court can then issue orders for child support, visitation, and child custody.
For assistance with a paternity or child custody action in Iowa City or Des Moines, contact The Law Offices of Mark R. Hinshaw today.