The key issues related to unmarried fathers are parentage (paternity), child custody, and child support.
There are several ways an unwed father can establish himself as the child's father. First, you can show you've 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, you swear under penalty of perjury that you are the child's only possible father. The father's name on the birth certificate does not establish paternity. If, however, you haven't signed a paternity affidavit, paternity can be established by court action. You can either agree that you are the father, or the court can order genetic testing to determine it.
Child custody and establishing a parenting plan
After establishing your status as the father of the child, you may request a parenting plan to address the residential schedule and other co-parenting issues. Parental rights such as 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. You 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 both parties, prepare a report, and make recommendations to the court as to an appropriate parenting plan. Though courts are not required to follow the recommendations, they usually put significant weight on them when rendering decisions.
Once paternity is established, you have a legal duty to pay child support. Child support obligations are set according to a statutory formula. Calculating child support is not always straightforward, as support obligations are directly determined based on the net incomes of the parties. The difficulty of determining net income depends on your circumstances. If you're a W-2 wage earn with no other sources of income, determining net income for purposes of setting child support obligations can be relatively straight forward. But it can be more difficult if you're unemployed, underemployed, or own businesses, investments, or have non-recurring income.