joint custody when parents aren’t married.

My son is serving in the War and while home on leave he got a girl pregnant. She has decided to keep the baby and will work with my son in the child’s best interest. He wants to know if he automatically has joint legal custody if she puts his name on the birth certificate. I want to know if getting a paternity test is common when the couple is not married. Thank you.

Asked on June 12, 2009 under Family Law, Oregon


B. B., Member, New Jersey Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 11 years ago | Contributor

For reliable advice about this, you need to talk to a lawyer in the area where the girl lives, because the law does vary from one state to another;  also, there may be other facts of the case, and sometimes the details matter, a lot.  One place to look for a qualified attorney is our website,

In most states, joint legal custody of a child born outside of marriage isn't automatic.  If he's going to be a father to the child, and there's a good relationship with the mother, it shouldn't be hard to get, either by agreement or by a court order at the same time one would be entered for child support.  In most states, I think the family court judges would welcome an agreement setting everything up, and it's for the best interest of the child, just in case there's an emergency during your son's parenting time.

Paternity tests are common when there's a question raised.  But if the question is going to be brought up, it should be early or not at all, because many courts won't get into paternity if a person has acted as the child's father for a number of years.

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