What Are the Parental Rights of Unmarried Parents In West Virginia?

The parental rights of married parents are fairly well-defined and unambiguous. But when it comes to establishing the parental rights of unmarried parents, the laws are not so clear-cut.

If you are an unmarried parent in West Virginia interested in establishing child visitation, custody, and support rights, you should consult with an experienced family law attorney who can assess your unique situation and offer the best legal advice to protect your rights.

Establishing Parentage in West Virginia

For unmarried mothers in West Virginia, there is a presumption that the mother is the child’s parent at birth. The Supreme Court of West Virginia acknowledges parental rights to be fundamental as per W. Va. Code § 49-1-1(a) and W. Va. Code § 49-6D-2(a).

There are no such initial rights for unmarried fathers. The process for an unmarried father to claim parental rights is much more complicated. The father is able to sign an Acknowledgement of Paternity (“AOP”) only if the mother allows it. This form has to be signed by both parties for the father’s name to be mentioned on the child’s birth certificate. An individual can only be considered to be the legal father of the child when he completes the AOP.

Unmarried Mother’s Parental Rights in West Virginia

Married and unmarried parents often face the same legal issues when it comes to their children. Stemming from this, the laws are more complicated in the case of children born to unmarried parents.

If the parents are not married, the mother is usually given the primary custody rights automatically. This means the mother has complete authority to make minor and major decisions regarding the welfare of the child.

An unmarried mother with full physical and legal custody is responsible for various decisions regarding:

  • School
  • Child care
  • Home residence
  • Vacations and travel
  • Health needs, including counseling, physicians, and dental therapy
  • Summer camps, sports, church, and other extracurricular activities

Unmarried Father’s Parental Rights in West Virginia

In an ideal family situation, a father looking to be involved in the child’s life should be able to work out a visitation or shared custody schedule. This doesn’t always happen. The father’s parental rights will hold equal weight to the mother in court if his name is on the birth certificate. The father is required to prove paternity before they can pursue any parental rights.

The father will need to prove that he is a suitable parent capable of taking on the custodial rights of the child. However, WV courts generally favor the mother receiving physical custody if she is deemed to be a fit parent. The father can petition for visitation rights, which the courts usually grant if the father is a fit parent.

Child Custody for Unmarried Parents

As we talked about in the previous section, child custody usually goes to the mother when the parents are not married. There is a major exception to this, however, and that is when the mother has been deemed unfit to have child custody.

If the mother is deemed to be a fit parent, the father can try to obtain partial custody and visitation rights even if the mother has been allowed primary physical custody. Speak with a family law attorney in WV to learn more about your legal rights in this situation.

Child Support has to be Paid by Both Parents

Even if unmarried, both parents are responsible for financially supporting their children. The court may evaluate the contributions of each depending on the responsibilities and incomes of each parent. The needs of the child will also be determined by the court while evaluating individual financial contributions and child support payments.

Any parent that comes into financial trouble, such as job loss can file for a reevaluation of child support payments based on a material change in circumstances. Generally, the other parent is supposed to pay support if the child spends the majority of their time living with one parent. You have the option of pursuing legal means to get the court to order the other parent to contribute.

Get a Compassionate Family Law Attorney in West Virginia on Your Side – Pence Law Firm

The experienced attorneys at the law office of Pence Law Firm have the proven skills to successfully handle even the most complex and contentious family law matters on behalf of our clients. This is why we have been trusted by countless clients who have had complicated family legal matters to resolve.

Establishing parental rights can be significantly challenging to deal with on your own. Our attorneys have a deep understanding of West Virginia laws and we will utilize our knowledge and resources to provide you with the most effective solutions.

Schedule your free and confidential consultation with us today. Call (304) 345-7250 or write to us online.