a father with his child, child custodyUnwed parents do not always share equal rights of custody and parenting. Parentage must be established to support custody rights or claims of responsibility for support.

Questions of Custody and Responsibility

The rise in the number of unwed parents has raised questions about parental custody rights and the support requirements for the children. To address this issue, Illinois law has established the criteria for proving the rights and responsibilities of unwed parents.

Establishing Parentage

In most cases, a child’s legally recognized parents share custody and responsibility for the care and support of the child. Unwed parents must prove the child’s parentage to assert custody rights or support obligations.

The Mother’s Parenting Rights

A mother’s parental rights are established when she gives birth to the child. These rights may occasionally be suspended or removed by the court if there is a demonstration that the mother is an unfit parent. Otherwise, she retains custody rights of children born to her.

Proving the Father’s Parenting Rights

Establishing an unwed father’s parental rights and responsibilities can be more difficult. The law provides for several ways to determine a father’s paternity, including:

  • The father was legally married to the mother at any time during the pregnancy, even if they are currently unwed
  • The unwed father signs a Voluntary Acknowledgement of Paternity (VAP) and is listed as the father on the child’s birth certificate
  • Court order in cases where methods such as DNA testing prove that he is the father

Establishing paternity is a serious matter with consequences for all parties involved. Signing a VAP without full knowledge of paternity can obligate the listed father to support the child, whether or not he is the actual parent. It may also give him parenting and custody rights to be shared with the mother.

Conversely, without establishing paternity, a father cannot claim custody rights. In these cases, the mother retains exclusive custody and parenting rights but can make no claims on the father for support of the child.

Legal Proof Required

Before a court grants custody rights or orders child support from an unwed parent, there must first be proof of parentage. While a mother’s parental rights are established at birth, the father’s rights and obligations require legal proof of paternity.