A clear trend in the United States shows that unwed parents have become far more common than they used to be. This does not just mean comparing the modern numbers with those from previous generations, when marriage itself tended to happen earlier and people viewed it differently than they do today. Even in modern times, the change has been dramatic.
For instance, one study found that only 18.4% of children had unmarried parents on the day they were born in 2007. Today, just a dozen years later, that number has soared to around 40 percent.
For fathers, this new reality can create some challenges. They may need to establish that they really are the father of the child. This is something that the law presumes with married couples — even though it is not always the case — but that it doesn’t presume with unwed parents.
What this means is that a father who does not take the right steps to show that he is the father could jeopardize his fundamental rights. Those include the right to share custody of the child, to visit the child when he or she lives with the mother, to make medical and legal decisions on behalf of the child, and much more.
The birth certificate
First off, the easiest way for a man to ensure that the law sees him as the father is to go to the hospital during the birth. He can then assist the mother with the birth certificate and make sure that his name is listed properly. This is the least complicated solution and it’s something that often happens naturally with couples who are in committed relationships, whether they’re married or not.
In some cases, the father cannot go to the hospital to fill out this paperwork. This could be due to a contentious relationship, a lack of knowledge that the child is being born or some other such factor. If that happens, he may want to use a Voluntary Acknowledgment of Paternity form after the fact.
In the most complex cases, the mother may contest that the man is really the father. He may still believe that he is, or he may at least want to know for sure.
To do this, he can take a paternity test. If the mother refuses to cooperate, he may then need to petition the court and have the Court order her to do so. Modern paternity tests are extremely accurate and can settle the matter once and for all.
If you find yourself in a complicated case like this, it is crucial that you know what options you have in Massachusetts to protect your rights as a parent.