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What is the legal definition of a father in Maryland?

While it may seem unusual to have to define who a father is according to the law, it is an important legal matter that many unmarried parents must deal with. Until a father is legally declared for the child, there can be no decisions made on visitation or child support. Understanding how the family courts determine who the legal father is in these situations is an important part of being prepared for your case.

When a child is born to unmarried parents, the mother is automatically considered the full legal custodian and the person responsible for all of the decisions for the child's care. The only way to change this, and for the father to have court-ordered visitation rights, is to have a legally declared father. There are several different ways this can be achieved in the state of Maryland.

The first and easiest is for the father to make a written acknowledgement of paternity. These forms are often used in hospitals at the time of birth if the father is present. However, men should be informed on the legal implications before signing a written acknowledgement since this can mean that the man must be financially responsible for the child even if it is later proven by DNA test not to be his biological child.

In absence of a written acknowledgement, the man must either be "openly and notoriously" claiming the child to be his own, have married the mother after the birth and claimed the child as his own, or have been legally designated as the father by the family courts.

Source: FindLaw, "Legal Definition of 'Father' by State," accessed April 07, 2016

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