Parental rights encompass your legal ability to direct the care of your child. If you do not have parental rights, you have no say or authority in your child’s life.
Mothers gain these rights upon birth because the biological connection is clear. Fathers do not unless they are married to the mother, which is why establishing paternity is so important.
Before you establish paternity and parental rights, you really have no legal authority over your child. You do not have the right to see him or her. You cannot make any decisions or be part of the decision-making process. If you and the mother are not getting along, she could keep you from seeing the baby. You have zero rights to the child on any level.
On the flip side, if you do not have established paternity, then you have no obligations to the child. You do not have any obligation to provide for the child in any way. The baby is not your financial obligation until you establish paternity. At that point, the mother could ask for financial help from the day of birth, depending on the situation.
The importance of establishing parental rights for fathers is that it gives you legal access to your child. Any decision made about custody or support can go through the court and should do so.
Even if you and the mother are on good terms or in a relationship, you never know what will happen in the future. It is a good idea to protect yourself by ensuring you get paternal rights.