You don’t have to marry someone to start a family with them. You can have a child with someone that you have never made any sort of commitment to, and you still have rights as a father.
Of course, married fathers find themselves in a more secure position for custody matters. They have a clear connection to the child and therefore immediate grounds for requesting shared custody or visitation.
As an unmarried father, you have the right to time with your child and a say in their upbringing. You may just need to take an extra step before making use of those rights.
You may need to establish paternity
Perhaps you and the mother of your child already filled out paperwork at the hospital. You know that your name is on the birth certificate. If that is true in your case, then congratulations! You have already established paternity.
If your name is not yet on the birth certificate, you have the option of adding your name at any point. If the mother will cooperate with you, the two of you can fill out paperwork and submit it to the state. Otherwise, you may need to ask for testing. Genetic paternity testing is usually very reliable and will allow you to add your name to the birth certificate and assert the same rights as any other father.
You need a formal custody order
You don’t want your access to your child to depend on the goodwill of the mother. Instead, you want the courts to acknowledge you as the father and to allocate parenting time to you. You and the mother could potentially cooperate by submitting your own parenting plan, or you can litigate if you don’t agree about the right way to divide time with the child and the authority to make decisions about their upbringing.
In either case, a court-issued custody order will give you not just the right to spend time with your child but also the right to hold the mother accountable if she refuses that parenting time. Understanding and asserting your right to child custody may take a few extra steps for an unmarried father, but it is absolutely a worthwhile process.