There are several ways an unwed father can establish himself as the child's father. First, by showing he has signed an acknowledgment of paternity (or paternity affidavit), which is a document typically offered for signature at the time of birth by hospital staff. By signing, the father has sworn under penalty of perjury that he is the child's only possible father. The father's name on the birth certificate does not establish paternity. If, however, the father has not signed a paternity affidavit, he may establish paternity by court action. The father can either agree that he is the father, or the court may order genetic testing to be done to determine it.
Child Custody and Establishing a Parenting Plan
After establishing his status as the father of the child, the father may request that a parenting plan, which addresses the residential schedule and other co-parenting issues, be established. Parental rights such as a residential time with the child, decision making participation, and other aspects of the parent/child relationship are only limited by legal findings of abuse, neglect, or other factors which the court concludes has or will negatively impact the best interests of the child.. He may even request to be designated the primary parent or have split custody with the mother. In a contested custody case, a parenting evaluator or guardian ad litem may be appointed to investigate the factual circumstances of the parties, prepare a report, and make recommendations to the court as to an appropriate parenting plan. Though not equired to follow it, courts are usually highly influenced by them in rendering decisions.
Once paternity is established, the father has a legal duty to pay child support. Child support obligations are set according to a statutory formula. Calculating child support is not always straight forward, as support obligations are directly determined based on the net incomes of the parties. Determining what constitutes net income is consequential. For W-2 wage earners with no other sources of income, determining net income for purposes of setting child support obligations can be relatively straight forward. Calculating net income for the unemployed, underemployed, or for individuals who own businesses, investments, or have non-recurring income can be more difficult.