North Carolina’s paternity laws for unmarried people are similar to most states. An unwed mother has full legal custody of her child unless the father establishes paternity. He is then on his way to becoming the child’s legal father. 

The law uses the term “legal father” only in specific circumstances. The Child Welfare Information Gateway states that a legal father must either be married to the mother at the time of the child’s conception or birth or a man who previously established his paternity. 

It is not so cut and dry for an unwed father. For clarity, the law describes unmarried fathers without legal parental rights as one or more of the following terms: 

  • Alleged father: This man claims to be the biological father or the mother asserts he is. His paternity is not yet determined. 
  • Putative father: He is the alleged biological father, but his paternity is not yet established with the courts. 
  • Acknowledged father: This father has established a parent-child relationship by voluntarily signing an acknowledgment of paternity. 
  • Adjudicated father: A judge has decided that this man is the genetic father. 
  • Presumed father: The courts recognize this man as the child’s father until his paternity is either confirmed or proven false. 

Responsibilities of a legal father 

Once a father acknowledges his child legally, he gains certain rights and faces new responsibilities. According to FindLaw, the father’s obligations are now the same as a father within a marriage. He is now able to seek custody and visitation rights, but he is also required to provide financial support for the child and for medical costs incurred during pregnancy and birth.