Child Custody: Rights of Unmarried Mothers in Ohio

Sometimes in unhealthy or abusive relationships, a child’s father will threaten to “take the child” from the mother, and tell her that she can’t do anything about it. For parents who are unmarried, this is simply not true.

Even if the unmarried mother and father live together under the same roof, and even if the father provides for the child, he still does not have any legal rights to the child without a court order.

An unmarried mother in Ohio never has to file to get custody.

Per the Ohio Revised Code 3109.042 – “An unmarried female who gives birth to a child is the sole residential parent and legal custodian of the child until a court issues an order designating another person as the residential parent and legal custodian.”

Establishing Paternity

An unmarried father must go to court to get legal rights to the child. The first step is to establish paternity. This can be done by both parents signing a Paternity Affidavit or by DNA testing through the child support agency or the court.

A common misconception is that establishing paternity automatically guarantees that the father has a right to see the child. Actually, establishing paternity does not give the father visitation or custodial rights.

For details about Franklin County child support, establishing paternity and Paternity Affidavits, visit

Filing for Visitation or Custody

Obtaining a child support order and paying child support does not give an unmarried father visitation or custodial rights to the child.

The father may choose to file for visitation or custody after paternity is established.

If the unmarried mother is allowing visitation already, the father may feel that he does not need to get a court order for it. However, unless there is a court order, any visitation is at the mother’s discretion.

In most cases, it is beneficial for the child to have a relationship with their father. An unmarried mother who does not have concerns about the health or safety of herself or the child should allow visitation when it is in the child’s best interest.

Franklin County Resources for Unmarried Parents

For unmarried parents who need assistance in working out a visitation agreement, the Franklin County Juvenile Court offers a Visitation Mediation program. The program can be reached by calling 614-525-6640 or via Franklin County Court of Common Pleas, Division of Domestic Relations and Juvenile Branch website.

For additional information, visit the Ohio Legal Resources tab of our website.


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