A father in North Carolina has the right to seek visitation and custody rights regardless of whether he was married to his child's mother. However, paternity must be officially established before an unmarried father can assert his parental rights. If paternity is not being contested, it may be established with signatures from both of the parents.
When paternity is contested, a man may need to take a DNA test in order to prove that he is the child's father. Once paternity is established, the father can negotiate a parenting plan with the mother or petition the court for custody or visitation rights. When it comes to child custody and visitation decisions, courts will first consider the best interests of the children. In most cases, this means that the child will maintain contact with both parents.
If there is evidence of drug abuse or domestic violence, a court may rule against a parent's petition for child custody. A father who is petitioning for sole custody of his child will usually not succeed unless he can prove that the mother is an unfit parent.
A father who already has a child custody or visitation order may petition the court for a modification if certain circumstances have changed. For example, a father may ask the court for more parenting time if the original child custody order was issued when a child was still very young. A family law attorney may be able to represent a father who is seeking a new or modified child custody order.