North Carolina parental rights for children born out of wedlock

When a married couple has a child together, the parental rights are pretty cut and dried. But what happens when an unmarried couple has a child? The laws for such a circumstance vary from state to state.

In today’s post, we discuss a few important considerations for unmarried parents in North Carolina:

Paternal rights

Whether a mother gives birth to a child in or outside of wedlock has no effect on her parental rights. However, if the father is unmarried, he will need to establish paternity in order to gain parental rights. This is usually achieved through a blood or genetic test.


Under North Carolina law, an unmarried mother will be given primary custody of the child—unless there are exceptional circumstances. If the court deems the child’s wellbeing to be at risk with the mother—e.g., she abandons her child or has shown herself to be an unfit parent—she will not receive primary custody. If, however, the mother receives primary custody, the father by effect will receive secondary custody—which essentially amounts to visitation rights.


If any parent fails to provide adequate support of their child or willfully neglects their child, that parent can be charged with a class 2 misdemeanor. This law applies to any child residing in North Carolina—regardless of the child’s place of birth.

When a child is born out of wedlock, it can complicate the legal rights of the parents. If you’re concerned about the role you’ll get to play in your child’s upbringing, it’s important to consult with an experienced family law attorney.

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