Many Colorado residents may be unfamiliar with the parenting challenges unmarried fathers face. Unlike mothers whose parental rights are immediately established by the birth of the child, non-married fathers need to follow a certain legal process before their paternal rights are recognized; the need for this process often arises when child support or custody issues surface. Throughout the history of fathers' rights, dads have attempted to navigate the family law system to obtain parenting rights without the proper knowledge on how to assert their rights effectively.

For starters, when an unmarried father signs the child's birth certificate, it does not automatically establish parental rights. The court is the only entity authorized to establish an unmarried father's paternity. An unwed father's rights can only be established by means a custody order or DNA testing to determine biological paternity. A father must file a legal action to establish paternity so that the court can recognize his paternal rights and confirm a father's relationship to the child.

If the mother of the child applies for any type of financial assistance, the state will enforce a child support action against the unmarried father whether or not the mother is actively involved with the man identified as the father of the child. Disclosing the identity of the father is a requirement when an unwed mother seeks financial assistance from the government.

One of the most common family law issues facing unmarried fathers is child support. However, paying child support has little to do with establishing fathers' rights. Although unmarried fathers are typically obligated to financially support their child, a child support obligation does not establish their legal relationship with the child. As a matter of fact, a father can be ordered to pay child support even if the court has not yet considered his right to spend time with the child. Without consideration of child support obligation, an unwed father's visitation rights can only be granted by the court.

Source: ABC Action News, "Five important things that unwed fathers need to know," Yvette Harrell, Oct. 8, 2013