Being a biological father is not the same as being the father in the eyes of Mississippi law. Only a man married to the mother automatically takes on the legal role of father, according to The Mississippi Bar. Until someone other than a husband establishes paternity through legal means, he does not have parental rights.

A man who wants custody or visitation rights and responsibilities must establish paternity.

The paternity process

A biological father may sign an affidavit to that effect, which is on the back of a birth certificate. However, the signature does not bestow the rights. Only the court can do that. The father, the mother or the child may file a complaint with the court any time before the child reaches the age of 18. The court ruling officially establishes paternity. The court will accept genetic test results as evidence of paternity.

Custody considerations

The Mississippi Bar provides guidelines for a healthy custody plan. Before a father takes his case to court, he should evaluate how well his request stacks up to the court’s considerations for the “best interest and welfare of the child.” The factors that a judge uses to come to the decision include the following:

  • The child’s age (those 12 and older may express their preference)
  • The physical and mental health of parents and their moral fitness
  • The emotional bond each parent has with the child
  • The employment responsibilities and stability of each parent
  • The stability of each parent’s home and the child’s educational and social needs
  • The willingness and ability of each parent to provide the child’s primary care

It also matters which parent had primary care of the child previously and which parent has better parenting skills. A father who is able to demonstrate that the child would be safe, healthy, happy and well-cared for in his home is more likely to receive joint custody. This would put him on equal footing with the mother in regard to parenting rights and responsibilities, although it may not mean that each parent has equal time with the child.