Here in South Carolina, child custody and visitation disputes can become complicated if the children at issue were born out of wedlock. There are several different avenues for establishing parentage in the state. The most traditional option occurs if the parents of a child get married then the paternity of the father is established automatically. If the couple chooses not to get married, the parents can establish paternity while still in the hospital by filling out and signing a form known as a Voluntary Paternity Acknowledgment.
Should the unwed couple decide not to fill out the form while still in the hospital, they can always do so later by getting a copy of the same form from the South Carolina Office of Vital Records. These offices are located at every county health department across the state, and you can find a list of them here. There’s a small fee associated with filing the form, but it is easily access and can be filed by either parent once the child is born.
Though this all seems relatively simple, it’s important to note that the above instances only cover cases where both parents are in agreement about who is the father of the child. If either party disagrees, things can become more complicated and litigious. Either party could have doubts for a variety of reasons, in which case the court system would have to get involved. The mother or the father has the ability to petition a court to issue an order establishing paternity, a step that is only taken after genetic testing has been conducted.
The issue of establishing legal paternity is so important for men because, unlike married fathers, a father who is not married to the child’s mother has to take such steps to get the rights he is due. An unmarried father does not automatically have his name listed on the child’s birth certificate or hold custody and visitation rights. Before he can ask a South Carolina court for custody or visitation rights, he must first establish that he is the child’s legal father.
Establishing paternity is crucial for any father desperate to see his children, as it is the only way a court can order visitation rights. However, fathers need to be aware that such legitimation also comes with responsibilities including child support. By establishing paternity you are also opening the door to a possible child support case by the child’s mother and those risks and rewards need to be understood before the process is undergone.
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