Child Custody When There's No Father on the Birth Certificate

Do Never-Married Single Moms Need to File for Child Custody?

No father on the birth certificate form
Moms may need to file for custody when there's no father on the birth certificate. Photo © Karl Schatz/Getty Images

When there's no father on the birth certificate, a lot of questions come up about child custody. Does the mother have to file for custody? Or is it assumed that since the child lives with her, and the father is not around, there's no need to actually file? Some moms in this predicament even wonder whether formally filing for child custody could work against them, causing an absent father to reappear 'out of the woodwork' and demand joint custody or regular visitation.

Let's explore this question further:

When There's No Father on the Birth Certificate

A reader asks:  I was never married to my ex, and now I'm wondering if I need to file for child custody. My baby is now two years old, and there's no father on the birth certificate. In fact, he wasn't even around at the time of my daughter's birth, so including him on the birth certificate was not even an option. I assumed at the time that I would automatically get child custody, but I've also heard that I should file just in case my ex ever re-appears. Which is it? Since there's no father on the birth certificate, can I safely assume that I have sole custody? Or do I actually need to file for custody even though my daughter currently lives with me and my ex is not around?

Answer: It depends on where you live. In some states, like Oklahoma, it is presumed that the mother has sole custody in cases where the parents were unmarried at the time of the child's birth and no father is on the birth certificate.

However, in other states, like Michigan, it is presumed that an unwed mother only has initial custody, as opposed to sole custody, even when the father is not on the birth certificate and has never signed a formal acknowledgment of parentage.

You should be aware, as well, that many states either make no presumption of custody based on whether the father is on the birth certificate, or presume joint custody even in cases where the parents were never married.

Therefore, you should read up on the statutes and child custody laws in your state. Depending on where you live, it is possible that you will need to formally file for custody, even though your child is already living with you.

When reviewing the child custody laws, pay attention to: