What rights does a South Carolina father have if not married to the mother of the child?  The answer is that South Carolina unmarried fathers rights are very limited, unless you take steps to protect yourself and your relationship with your child.In South Carolina, the mother has sole custody of a child born to unmarried parents.  See S.C. Code Ann. §63-17-20(B).

What should a South Carolina father do to have rights to the child?

Voluntary Acknowledgment of Paternity

There is a SC legal process called a verified voluntary acknowledgment of paternity.  S.C. Code Ann. §63-17-50. The father must have an opportunity to seek legal advice before signing such an acknowledgment, and the acknowledgment must be sworn and witnessed.  The witness must also prepare a written certification that the acknowledgment was voluntary and not under duress.  After sixty days, the father can only challenge the acknowledgment in court on the basis of fraud, duress, or material mistake of fact.  A lawyer should prepare the acknowledgment to make sure it meets the requirements of the law.

What if I want custody or visitation?

The voluntary acknowledgment of paternity does not give the father rights to custody or visitation with the child, however.

A father can file an action to establish paternity in family court.  S.C. Code Ann. §63-17-10.  As part of this case, the father may be granted custody or visitation as well as becoming the legal father of the child.  Child support will also be established for the child.  A paternity action cannot be completed until the child is born (although it can be started).  S.C. Code Ann. §63-17-10(D).

Paternity action agreements

Frequently, the mother and father reach a voluntary written agreement prepared by a lawyer and submitted to the court along with financial declarations and affidavits.  The parties can agree on custody, visitation, and child support for the child, and the judge will approve the agreement if it is fair.  S.C. Code Ann.  §63-17-40

What if she files a paternity action and I’m not sure I’m the father?

What if the father is not certain he is the biological father of the child?  Genetic tests can be ordered by the Court if the mother brings a paternity case seeking child support.  There are a number of other facts or evidence that can be introduced concerning the issue of paternity if it is contested.  See S.C. Code Ann. §63-17-60.

Contact Hindson & Melton LLC by e-mail or in Charleston, SC at (843) 410-9038 to schedule a consultation if you have questions about your rights as a South Carolina father.

© Karen S. Hindson, Hindson & Melton LLC – August 3, 2013