In Washington, D.C., and across the country, unmarried parents have certain protections with regard to child custody, and these protections are similar to those that married parents have. There are, however, some differences to be noted. Visitation and child custody issues for married parents are addressed during divorce proceedings, but for unmarried parents, these issues are settled at separate hearings.
Protections for unmarried parents in Washington, D.C., are granted through a number of statutes, including Sections 16-914, 16-909-01, 16-909-03 and 16-909-04. An unmarried mother is automatically granted full and legal custody of a child as her biological relationship with the child is not in doubt. An unmarried father, on the other hand, must establish paternity in order to be granted parental rights and duties for the child. To do this, the unwed father must voluntary acknowledge paternity or have paternity established through a court order.
Under child custody laws, an Acknowledgement of Paternity may be signed if both parents agree to it. After this acknowledgement is signed by both parents, the name of the father can be added to the birth certificate, and paternity does not need to be established in court. If parents do not agree on paternity, they may file a petition in Superior Court. To establish paternity, the court may order a genetic test. If the genetic test shows that the man is the biological father, a court order will be issued to establish the child’s paternity. After paternity is established, the court will settle custody, visitation and child support issues.
When parents are facing child custody issues, this can result in a stressful situation for all members of the family, including the children. A family law attorney may help with such issues by working to ensure an optimal outcome for parents and their children.