Establishing paternity and visitation rights can be slightly more challenging for unmarried fathers. Illinois law provides all biological parents with the right to access their children in most circumstances regardless of marital status at the time of conception or birth. While paternity is automatically assumed if a child is born while a couple is married, an unmarried father may have to take some extra legal steps before he is allowed legal access to his child.
The first step toward visitation is to establish legal paternity. If the mother agrees, then this is a relatively simple process. Both parents will sign a form that establishes paternity. If the mother disagrees or if there is another man claiming paternity, then DNA tests will usually be conducted to establish paternity. A court order will then be provided legitimizing the father's claim and rights.
Once paternity is established, the process for claiming visitation is similar for both unmarried and divorced fathers. The best interest of the child is held as paramount in custody and visitation determinations. In most circumstances, the law favors children keeping contact with both parents in some capacity. The best-case scenario is that the parents will be able and willing to work together and create their own parenting agreement. This agreement will define a visitation schedule and other parental responsibilities. Parents who are able to work together well are generally given a great deal of flexibility and may rarely if ever have to go to court.
The road to establishing visitation and custody rights is not always simple. If a mother cannot work with the unmarried father or attempts to block access to the child, then the father may have to take legal action to assert his rights. A court-ordered visitation schedule can be put in place that ensures a non-custodial parent's access to a child.