The rights and responsibilities of unmarried parents in North Carolina are much the same as those of married folk with one salient difference: Paternity must be established. That hurdle must be cleared and until that’s done the mother has the primary right to custody of the child.
Clear, cogent and convincing evidence
Establishing paternity can be done collaboratively. The mother and father can declare paternity in a signed and sworn document called an Affidavit of Parentage.
Alternatively, the father can file a paternity action. This path will require genetic testing.
Once the deed is done, the declared papa is responsible for medical expenses incurred during the pregnancy and birth of the child.
The Tender Years Doctrine
Generations ago, there was a legal presumption that the child’s mother should have custody during the earliest years of the child’s life. However, as of 1977, North Carolina revisited this concept and replaced it with the “best interests of the child” standard: The court decides these matters based on what it perceives to be in the child’s best interests. This is what governs, and gender bias has been put to the side.
Both parents have a responsibility to support the child. Both parents have equal rights to physical and legal custody of the child.
As would be the case with divorcing parents, the unmarried mother and father must sort out what the custody and child support arrangements will be.
They can amicably put together a co-parenting plan or seek assistance through mediation. If matters become too contentious, the courts are available to them.
The single father is free to be a fully engaged dad with no limitations. Unless there’s a legal finding that the best interests of the child are not served by his involvement, the single father’s parental role is fully recognized by the law.