Many circumstances can lead to the birth of a child, and marriage isn’t always part of the equation. Plenty of modern families don’t marry before having children, and it is possible for unmarried parents to share custody even after their relationship ends.

As an unmarried father or soon-to-be father living in Pennsylvania, you probably worry about your rights and whether you can maintain a relationship with your child, particularly if you don’t have a positive relationship with the mother of your child. Some people mistakenly believe that only married fathers have a right to seek custody or visitation through the courts.

Thankfully, Pennsylvania family law recognizes the critical role that a father plays in the life of a child. Regardless of your marital status at the time of the child’s birth or when you decide you want to seek visitation or shared custody, you have rights as long as you have a verifiable biological connection to the child. Taking formal steps to establish paternity will protect your parental relationship.

In highly contentious cases, the courts take action

All too often, a father not married to the mother of a child is uninvolved because the mother doesn’t want him around. If you can’t communicate calmly with the mother of your child or if she simply refuses to respond to you or acknowledge you, you may have no choice but to ask the Pennsylvania family courts to help you legally prove you are the father of the child.

The courts can compel the mother to present the child for genetic testing. DNA tests are highly accurate and reliable when properly performed. A positive DNA test will confirm your paternity of the child and allow you the right to seek visitation or shared custody. Establishing paternity also results in legal parental responsibilities, which could include paying child support, depending on the exact custody situation.

You can try working with the other parent before going to court

Taking a contentious approach to establishing paternity could add even more strain to the relationship between you and the mother of your child, which is why it is often best to try to find amicable resolutions to paternity issues before going to court.

Speaking with the mother of your child and explaining how you want to play a parental role could convince her that acknowledging you as the father is in the best interests of the child. If she hasn’t given birth yet, she may agree to add you to the child’s birth certificate. If the child is already born, she may agree to execute a voluntary acknowledgment of paternity form that can add your name to the birth certificate and help you secure your parental rights.