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North Carolina Child Custody Law for Unmarried Parents

Despite the traditionality of the State of North Carolina, parental rights do not depend on being married or unmarried. Though several laws connect marriage and parenting, child laws mostly depend on the biological and legal relationships between the parent and the child. The challenges faced by unmarried parents remain the same i.e. child custody, child support, and visitation. The additional challenge here is paternity which the court doesn’t directly assume in the case of unmarried couples. However, it can be at least partly established by placing the father’s name on the birth certificate and conclusively established by a court proceeding involving DNA testing. If you are the one dealing with paternity issues, you should visit a paternity lawyer who can help you provide your rights.

Who Has Primary Custody When Parents are Unmarried at the Time of Birth?

The parental rights of the mother remain the same regardless of whether she is married or unmarried while the father also has the same parental rights after establishing the paternity. Through establishing the paternity he gains the right to claim custody or visitation. As per the North Carolina child custody law for unmarried parents, the birth mother has post-natal custodial rights and can refuse visitation to the biological father until his right to custody is established. To challenge this, the father can file paternity action for child visitation or similar custody rights. In North Carolina, if the mother is proven unfit or abandons the child, she could quickly lose her presumed and future custodial rights, even though the child is newborn.

How Can Unmarried Parents Establish Paternity?

Paternity can be established after the child was born to unmarried parents through a civil action any time before the child attains 18 years old.

  • The unmarried parents do not have the legal rights until law recognizes each as a legal parent. This can be accomplished by establishing a biological relationship with the child. Both the parents possess the right to access to the court for establishing parentage.
  • The parent in question needs to file a formal motion, asking the judge to determine parentage, and the father needs to submit an admissible format or certified copy of the DNA test, depending on the situation. The mother may also need to bring the child for a DNA test, depending on the situation. The results of the genetic test can be submitted to the court even in cases where there has been the death of a presumed father or it has been more than three years after the child was born.
  • Once paternity is established, the custody and support obligations of the father are the same as those that apply to married couples. Additionally, upon establishing paternity, the father may become responsible for the medical expenses related to the pregnancy and birth of the child.

Can a Paternity Order be Set Aside?

A trial court can set aside a paternity order if each of the following conditions is met:

  1. The order was entered because of excusable neglect, mutual mistake, fraud, or duress.
  2. Genetic tests establish that the presumed father isn’t the child’s biological father

Custody and Visitation Law for Unmarried Parents

Custody and visitation decisions are the same for married or unmarried parents. The court looks for the best interest of the child. There is no such presumption that the primary right will be with her mother.

  • The court may instruct both parents to stay close to the child or may restrict the rights of one parent due to reasons like abuse or addiction. The court may supervise or terminate visitation depending on the situation.
  • If the parties agree on the terms of a parenting plan, they can proceed for approval. If the parties cannot agree on the same plan, the court will decide it for them while looking at the best interest of the child.
  • It should be ensured in the parenting agreement or plan that both parents are fulfilling their responsibilities for the child. In return, it should be ensured that each is also getting adequate time to spend with his child for building a strong relationship.

Furthermore, custody is divided into three types depending on the situation of the case (i.e. primary, secondary, or joint). Primary custody means the child can live for most of the time with one parent. In the secondary custody, the other parent can meet the child during visitations, or there can be joint custody, with attributes of primary custody going to one parent. If you are the one deprived of the custodial rights, then you may consult a good parenting lawyer to overcome your issues in the best of your interest.

Child Support Law Unmarried Couples

If the father refuses to pay child support, the mother can establish and/or retain child support rights by filing a lawsuit in child support court to settle the matter. It is the same in the case of both unmarried and married parents. If the primary custody is obtained by a mother or father, the custodial parent can ask for child support from the other in accordance with the North Carolina Child Support Guidelines. Also if a joint, non-custodial parent gets less than half of their time with the child, he or she may be required to pay child support. The amount of child support given to non- custodial parent each month will be decided by the court.

Child Welfare between Unmarried Parents

The main focus on child custodial cases remains on the child’s well- being i.e. the amount of money that is necessary for maintaining the child’s education and welfare. Whether married or not, the court makes its decision considering many factors including the capability to spend time with the children, whether the child has siblings, home environments and other factors affecting a child’s emotional and physical welfare.

Contact an Experienced Child Custody Lawyer

Child custody cases are filled with emotions and many get disputed in family courts. Hiring an experienced North Carolina child custody lawyer is essential to protect your parenting rights and the best interests of your child. Culbertson and Associates is the well-renowned Greensboro family law firm that provides assured quality services. In addition to strong litigation skills and experience in the courtroom, our senior parenting rights lawyer Krispen Culbertson is a talented negotiator. Your rights and the rights of your child are our top priority. So, if you’re a father who wants to establish your custody rights or a mother who wants to establish a visitation schedule for the father of the child, it’s a good idea to contact a local child custody lawyer who will be experienced in the laws and procedures related to North Carolina custody laws for unmarried parents.



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