It’s one of the happiest days of your life: your child is born. All you want now is to move forward and be a great dad, but you’ve heard some horror stories. Maybe you’re not in a relationship with the mother of your child and she doesn’t want you in the picture. Maybe you break up and she tries to push you out.

This all sounds scary. So, do you have any rights to the child? Short answer, yes. But there may be some things you need to do to get it.

Establish paternity

All biological parents have a right to ask for visitation or custody of their child. If you have become a father but are not married to the mother of your child, you’re going to need to confirm your paternity. Depending on your situation, that can happen one of two ways: both parents can legally acknowledge that you are the father, or you can go through DNA testing to prove paternity.

Create a parenting plan

A parenting plan is great for couples who aren’t married or are not together. It is an agreement that covers nearly all aspects of the parenting process so that you and the mother of your child are on the same page. It includes things like custody, visitation, education, routines, rules and health care. This can be made before your custody process or if you need legal intervention first, it can be made after.

Seek court decision

If you can agree on your parenting plan before going to court, you can bring that agreement to a judge and have them approve it. That way, you will have the ability to enforce your rights legally. If you and the mother are unable to come to an agreement, you can have a hearing and allow the court to decide on custody and visitation.

If you are seeking legal rights to your child, it’s always smart to work with an attorney. Even if you have a good relationship with the mother, your rights as a father are important and you shouldn’t leave anything up to chance.