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Unmarried Fathers’ Rights: Getting Child Custody as an Unwed Father in South Carolina

Unmarried Fathers' Rights

When people think of child custody cases, their minds often go to divorce. While divorce is a common reason people have custody battles, what happens to unmarried couples with children?

Specifically, what happens to unmarried fathers who want custody of their children in South Carolina?

Unmarried fathers do not have rights to their children under South Carolina law. They must establish paternity first. Sometimes this is an easy process, but fathers face specific challenges when determining paternity and establishing custody and visitation.

Are you an unmarried father fighting for custody of your child? Do you need help establishing paternity to gain rights over your child? Read this guide to learn about a father’s rights and what you can do to obtain child custody in South Carolina.

Do Fathers Have Equal Rights in South Carolina?

Before thinking about custody, you must understand your rights as an unmarried father in South Carolina. Married parents have equal rights over their children, according to South Carolina Statute Section 63-5-30. However, the state has different rules for unmarried parents.

If you are an unmarried parent, Section 63-17-20(B) applies to you:

Unless the court orders otherwise, the custody of an illegitimate child is solely in the natural mother unless the mother has relinquished her rights to the child. If paternity has been acknowledged or adjudicated, the father may petition the court for rights of visitation or custody in a proceeding before the court apart from an action to establish paternity.

In other words, an unmarried father does not have rights to their child unless they can prove paternity.

Establishing Paternity in South Carolina

You must establish your paternity to obtain custody of your child as an unwed father. The mother retains full rights over the child until your paternity is acknowledged. To do this, you have to bring forward a paternity action in the State of South Carolina.

Once the action has begun in court, the mother, child, and the child’s father (you) typically submit genetic testing to determine paternity. 

According to Section 63-17-60, the courts can also look at the following evidence when establishing paternity:

  • Refusal to submit to genetic testing
  • Statistical probability testing
  • A verified voluntary acknowledgment of paternity
  • A foreign paternity determination
  • A birth certificate with the mother and putative father’s signature
  • An expert’s opinion as to the time of conception
  • The testimony of a husband and wife as to relevant topics
  • Other relevant evidence that the courts deem admissible

After the court looks at all evidence, it will decide whether the alleged father is the child’s natural father. The parties can also agree and submit testimony under oath acknowledging that the alleged father is the child’s natural father.

If your paternity is established, you and the mother will receive equal rights to the child. Next, you have to file for custody. You may file for custody or visitation at the same time as filing for paternity, but the Court will not address custody or visitation until paternity is established.

Custody Rights for Unmarried Fathers

Once you’ve determined that you are the father, you can try to obtain custody. The court will treat the mother and father equally, showing no preference toward any parent. It will choose what is best for the child based on various factors.

For example, the court will look at each parent’s ability to care for the child and the character of the parents. It will also look at the child’s relationship with each parent and the parents’ living situations.

Ultimately, the court’s goal is to make a decision that best suits the child’s needs. If you need help obtaining child custody, consider talking to a child custody lawyer.

Issues Unmarried Fathers Could Face

Unfortunately, unmarried fathers often face many challenges when fighting for custody. First and foremost, they automatically have no rights over their children until they can prove paternity. They have to jump through hoops and go through hurdles to be able to see their children.

Here are some other issues unmarried fathers might face:

  • Not having their name on the birth certificate
  • Not having a say in major decisions for their children’s lives
  • Not being notified if their child is being put up for adoption

If you are an unmarried father and want a relationship with your child, proving your paternity should be your first priority.

How a Family Law Attorney Can Help

Unmarried fathers go through so many hardships just to be a part of their children’s lives. Just because they didn’t marry their partners at the time doesn’t mean these fathers should be uninvolved in their children’s lives.

To have rights to your child, you must prove paternity.

Sounds easy enough, right?

This process is not always as straightforward as it seems. Once you establish paternity, you still must go to court to fight for custody.

Overall, this can be a complicated process. You need an experienced and empathetic attorney on your side. At Steele Family Law, we help unmarried fathers obtain custody over their children, so they can be a part of their lives.

Need help with your case? Have questions? We’re here to help. Contact us today to schedule a consultation.

Author Bio

Greg Steele is CEO and Managing Partner of Steele Family Law, a South Carolina estate planning and family law firm. With years of experience in practicing law, he has zealously represented clients in a wide range of legal matters, including divorce, child custody and support, estate planning, probate, and other legal cases.

Greg received his Juris Doctor from the University of Georgia and is a member of the South Carolina Bar Association. He has received numerous accolades for his work, including being named among Anderson’s Top 20 Under 40 in 2022.

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