Modern American families aren’t the same as they were in decades past. Fewer and fewer couples are waiting until they are married to have children. Many couples delay getting married for years—or never marry while raising children. In fact, in 2016, about 40% of children were born to unwed parents.

Are you on the child’s birth certificate?

If you are an unmarried father, you must be named on the child’s birth certificate to have legal rights as the child’s parent. If you are not listed on the child’s birth certificate and end up leaving the relationship with the child’s mother, you won’t be eligible for legal custody rights or visitation, nor will you have any legal say in some decisions about the child.

If you’d like to establish parentage, first consult a family law attorney. Once the state recognizes you as the child’s parent, you will have much greater odds at securing custody rights, giving you a much bigger role in your child’s life.

Steps to establish paternity

The easiest way to establish paternity when you are not named on the birth certificate is to complete a Voluntary Acknowledgment of Paternity form. If the mother agrees that you are the biological father, you can complete this form to get your name on the birth certificate, granting you parental rights.

If there’s any question as to whether you are the father of the child, or if the mother refuses to sign the Voluntary Acknowledgement of Paternity form, the state recommends conducting a DNA test. In these cases, it’s more important than ever to confide in a family attorney to ensure the genetic test is accurate and your case for paternity is properly advocated before the court.

No one likes to think about how they might have limited to no visitation with their child. However, establishing your parentage will give you legal standing to pursue custody and visitation if you need to, so you keep your relationship with your child strong.