In Ohio, when an unmarried woman gives birth, she is automatically considered the child's legal custodian and residential parent (Ohio Revised Code § 3109.042). That means she is the one the child lives with and who makes decisions about the child's care and upbringing. She can also say who can visit the child and how long and often.
The opposite is not always true for a man. Meaning, although the man might have been present at the time of the child's birth, he does not automatically have parental rights.
The law presumes a man is a child's legal father in three circumstances:
- The parents were married when the child was born, or the child was born within 300 days of the termination of the marriage;
- The parents tried to get married, but a court determined the marriage invalid; or
- The parents signed an Acknowledgment of Paternity at the time of the child's birth or shortly after.
This means that if you and your child's mother are unmarried and did not file an Acknowledgment of Paternity, your ability to see your child and have an active role in their life may be limited.
As noted before, because an unmarried mother has legal parental rights, she can say who sees her child and when. Thus, if you are not considered the legal father, she can decide whether you visit your child.
In the interest of fairness, and unless she has concerns about your child's safety, she should let you see your child often (but again, she is not required to). If you and your child's mother can agree to a visitation schedule, it is essential that you keep a record of your discussions and when you can visit. Keep in mind that when visitation is just starting, the visits may be shorter in duration to allow the child to get used to spending time with their other parent.
What If My Child's Mother Won't Allow Visitation?
If you are in a situation where you and your child's mother are unmarried and she won't let you see your child, you can take legal action. You would need to file a petition with the court to get a visitation order.
When you seek a visitation order, the court may ask that you establish paternity before deciding how to proceed.
Your paternity can be established in several ways:
- Acknowledgment of Paternity: As mentioned earlier, you and your child's mother can sign and file an Acknowledgment of Paternity after your child is born.
- Assistance from Child Support Enforcement Agency: You can go through your local CSEA to get help establishing paternity. You may be required to submit to DNA testing.
- Court order: You can file a petition with the court to establish paternity. You may be required to submit to DNA testing.
Under Ohio Revised Code § 3109.12, if an unmarried father establishes paternity, they can seek visitation. As with any other legal matter, to obtain the right to see your child, you must file a petition with the court. A judge will consider granting visitation only if they decide that it is in your child's best interest.
Some of the factors the judge will consider include, but are not limited to:
- Your child's interactions with you, their mother, their siblings, and other significant people in their life;
- Where you and your child's mother live;
- Your and your child's mother's work schedules;
- Your child's school, holiday, and vacation schedules;
- Your child's adjustment to home, school, and community;
- Your child's wishes and concerns;
- Your child's health and safety;
- Your child's ability to spend time with their siblings;
- Your, your child's mother's, and your child's mental and physical health;
- Your and your child's mother's ability to be flexible with parenting time schedules;
- Whether you have been convicted of an offense involving child abuse or neglect;
- Whether you have ever denied another parent court-ordered parenting time; and
- Whether you are considering living out of state.
I Pay Child Support. Do I Automatically Get Visitation?
A court might have ordered you to pay child support. However, note that child support and visitation are two separate matters.
Although you might be keeping up with support payments, that does not automatically give you the right to have frequent contact with your child. You must either have an agreement with your child's mother or a court order to establish a visitation schedule.
Note that you cannot stop paying child support because your child's mother is not allowing you to see your child. Regardless of whether a child visitation order is in place, failing to comply with support orders is unlawful, and you can suffer severe sanctions for doing so.
If you have questions about child visitation or custody in Dayton, OH, reach out to L. Patrick Mulligan & Associates, LLC. Our team is here to answer your questions and provide the clear guidance you need throughout your case.