Not that long ago, it was very unusual for children to be born outside of wedlock in much of the country. That expectation has shifted drastically in the last generation. More people than ever before pursue long-term relationships without the commitment of marriage. Many couples choose to have children without marrying before conception or after the birth.
While there is certainly nothing wrong with this arrangement, it can create unique obstacles for fathers at the end of a relationship. If you are splitting up with the mother of your children but are not married, you may need to consider establishing paternity for your children.
Your name on the birth certificate is the simplest solution
When the mother of your children gave birth, the medical facility likely asked her to name the father of the children. Many times, unmarried women are happy to name their partners on these documents.
If the relationship ended prior to the birth or if there are other legal or social considerations, the mother may choose not to name the father at the time of birth. For you as a father, the simplest way to establish paternity is your name on the birth certificate. Barring that, you may need to take legal steps to establish yourself as the father of the child.
Voluntary acknowledgment of paternity is the next option
If you aren't married and the mother of your child did not list you on the birth certificate, you may still be able to complete a simple form to establish yourself as the father. As long as the mother agrees to sign as well, you can complete a form known as an Acknowledgment of Paternity.
Once you both sign, you can have the birth certificate amended to include you as the father of your child. However, if your child's mother will not sign the document voluntarily, you may have to ask the courts to intervene.
You may require a court order if nothing else works
If the mother of your child did not name you on the birth certificate and refuses to acknowledge you as the father, she probably won't just hand over the child for genetic testing. In this situation, you will need to file a petition with the courts in Washington DC asking the Child Support Services Division to help you establish paternity.
Once the Superior Court reviews your petition, you will receive a hearing. Provided that you can convince the courts there is a likely chance you are the father, the courts will then order genetic testing. If the mother refuses to present the child for testing, she may end up held in contempt of court.
Genetic testing is the simplest way to conclusively establish a link between you and the child. Once you have established paternity through genetic testing, you will have the right to seek shared custody of your child or at least visitation. You will also become responsible for child support. Make sure to keep the focus on the kids and to stand up for your rights as a father.