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When a child is born to an unmarried woman, legal custody of that child shall be in the woman giving birth to the child until the child reaches eighteen (18) years of age unless a court of competent jurisdiction enters an order to place the child in the custody of another party.

A biological father, provided he has established paternity in a court of competent jurisdiction, may petition the circuit court in the county where the child resides for custody of the child.

The court may award custody to the biological father upon a showing that:

  • He is a fit parent to raise the child.
  • He has assumed his responsibilities toward the child by providing care, supervision, protection, and financial support for the child.
  • It is in the best interest of the child to award custody to the biological father.

An unwed father has no legal rights with respect to the illegitimate child, even if his name is on the birth certificate or if he has signed an acknowledgement of paternity. His rights do not attach until the judge signs a paternity order, finding him to be the legal father. Until that time, the mother has all rights, including the ability to place the child for adoption. In order to protect his rights, the unwed father should have his name placed on the Arkansas Putative Father’s Registry so the mother cannot place the child for adoption without legal notice to the father.

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