Becoming a father represents an important change in a man's life in many profound ways. Among other things, fatherhood comes with certain legal rights and responsibilities. For this reason, paternity can be a matter of legal dispute. In many cases, a man or a woman might request a legal determination of paternity for a child.
Generally, a father has rights to visit his child and make important decisions about the child's education and other important issues. Thus, even if the parents are estranged, when paternity is legally established, the father can establish some form of custody rights. Without establishing paternity, a father can't seek these rights.
However, legal paternity carries responsibilities as well as rights. Among these is the obligation for child support. A single mother who has custody of her child and establishes paternity can legally require financial support from the father to care for the child. This financial aid can or may not include visitation or custody rights. The mother may or may not be required to share custody with the father or allow for visitation time. For the child, he or she gains rights to care, financial support and general care in search of the best interests of the child.
The mother, father and child may be on the same page in terms of goals in establishing paternity. However, they may not agree as to what paternity will mean. These issues can be hammered out in family law court if necessary. The best interests of the child are always top of mind in these child custody decisions.