Q: When a child is born out of wedlock, which parent has legal custody of the child?
A: In Arkansas, custody of a child born out of wedlock is in the mother; the father has no rights until he files for relief with a Court and is declared the biological father; only then can the father assert his rights as a parent. If you had a child born out of wedlock and child custody has become an issue, consult an Arkansas custody attorney to help you overcome all of the procedural hurdles that stand in front of a father and his rights’ to the child.
Q: Can the father assert his rights based on an acknowledgement of paternity or birth certificate identifying him as the father?
A: No. These documents are only useful to the father in Court as presumptive evidence that he is the biological father of the child. The mother would have to overcome the legal presumption if she was contesting paternity.
Q: What must a father do to obtain his rights as a father?
A: First he must petition the Court setting out the facts that show he is the father. If he has an acknowledgement of paternity or birth certificate he can attach those to the petition as exhibits. He must serve the petition upon the child’s mother and set a hearing on the matter. At the hearing, the mother may choose to admit he is the father; if so the father can agree to pay child support and ask for standard visitation. If there is a dispute as to paternity, the Court will order a paternity test to determine if the petitioner is in fact the father.
Q: After a father establishes in Court that he is the father of the child, can he then ask for custody?
A: Yes. If the father believes that the child’s mother has an issue that affects her ability to care for the child or that she is otherwise unable to provide for and care for the child, he can challenge custody. Custody is decided in the best interest of the child, not the wishes of the parties.