Unmarried Parents & Paternity in Indiana Custody

Unlike divorcing parents, unmarried parents aren't required to get court orders for custody and parenting time. They are free to create an informal co-parenting arrangement, but the court cannot enforce it.

For this reason, experts strongly advise getting court orders for legal custody, parenting time and child support.

You can get these by submitting a settlement agreement to the court for approval or by having a judge decide the issues in a final custody hearing.

Before the court will issue orders to unmarried parents, the child's paternity must be officially confirmed, which often happens at the birth. Without paternity confirmation, the mother automatically has sole legal custody and sole physical custody.

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Paternity confirmation

Putting the father's name on the child's birth certificate is not official paternity confirmation. Instead, there are two ways to confirm.

Often, parents confirm paternity by both signing an affidavit. If not, either parent can ask their county prosecutor's office to open a paternity case, which will involve DNA testing.

Confirming paternity makes the father responsible for child support immediately and possibly retroactively.

Confirming with a paternity affidavit

When parents agree on paternity, they can complete a paternity affidavit and sign it in front of a notary.

Within 72 hours of the child's birth, parents can do both steps at the hospital where the child is born with a form provided by the hospital. The staff there files the form with the county health department.

Alternatively, parents can submit a notarized affidavit to their county health department any time before the child turns 18. Some counties have fillable forms, while others require parents to create an affidavit that meets the state's requirements.

Within 60 days of the affidavit's filing, either parent or another possible biological father can ask the court to verify paternity with court-ordered DNA testing. This opens a court case (details below).

When parents confirm paternity through an affidavit, they automatically get joint physical custody, and the mother retains sole legal custody. The father is guaranteed the minimum parenting time laid out in the Indiana Parenting Time Guidelines.

If parents like this arrangement, they should detail how they'll make it work in a parenting time schedule and parenting plan. They can leave these documents unofficial or open a court case to have a judge formalize them.

If parents want a different arrangement, either one can open a court case to request the orders they prefer. If parents informally agree to something other than sole legal custody for the mom and the minimum parenting time for the father, the court can't enforce their agreement.

Confirming with a court case

If parents don't complete a paternity affidavit, they have two years from the child's birth to open a paternity case to get custody orders. There are some exceptions to the two-year limit, including if:

  • Both parents agree to waive it
  • Parents have had or currently have an informal custody or child support agreement
  • The father has acknowledged paternity in writing
  • The child has ever received public assistance

If you only need orders for paternity testing and child support, file a case with your county's child support office.

If you also want orders for legal custody and parenting time, file a family court case. Once paternity is confirmed, the judge will decide these issues, generally giving both parents at least as much parenting time as in the state's guidelines (linked above). Alternatively, you can submit a settlement agreement once paternity is confirmed.

Additionally, a child under 20 can open a paternity case at any time.

Staying organized

Managing custody and parenting time requires serious organization.

You may need to create a parenting plan, draft parenting time schedules, calculate expenses, prove you're communicating civilly with the other parent, etc.

The Custody X Change app enables you to do all of that in one place.

With a parenting plan template, customizable parenting time calendars, an expense tracker, parent-to-parent messaging and more, Custody X Change makes sure you're prepared for whatever arises in your journey to custody.

Take advantage of our technology to stay on top of all the moving parts of your case.

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