Parents in Indiana have the same rights regardless of their title or marital status. Although Indiana state law prioritizes what is best for the children in contested custody cases, judges overseeing a significant custody dispute should also seek to uphold the individual rights of both parents.
However, in practice, some parents will need to take more steps to establish or assert their parental rights. As an unmarried father, you have the same right to shared custody as a mother or a married father. You just have an extra requirement before you can ask the courts to award you shared custody.
Unmarried fathers have to establish paternity
When a married woman has a child, the state presumes that her husband is the father. His name will be on the birth certificate, and he will have all the rights and responsibilities that come along with that title. An unmarried father has to establish paternity before the state will acknowledge his parental rights.
Often, couples automatically establish paternity at the birth of their child. If you and the mother filled out paperwork at the hospital together and had your name added to the birth certificate, you have already completed this step. If your name is not currently on the birth certificate for your child, then you can ask the mother to fill out that paperwork with you now.
She may cooperate since it would mean she can ask you for child support. If she does not, you can ask the Indiana courts to order genetic testing and validate your paternity that way.
You can negotiate with your ex or litigate for custody
Sometimes, the mother of your child will enthusiastically agree to cooperate with you when you want shared custody. You can potentially reach your own agreement outside of court.
If she does not want to give you parenting time, you may need to initiate custody proceedings in the Indiana family courts. They will review your situation and determine the best way to divide parental responsibilities between you and the mother.
Understanding your rights as an unmarried father can help you remain an involved parent even after a breakup.