Divorce cases can be quite complicated to deal with, and things can get worse where children are involved. Settling child custody, visitation, and child support issues is never an easy thing to do. For married parents, there are clear laws that need to be followed when contesting child custody in court.
So, what happens when the parents are unmarried? Who keeps the kid (s) and how is it determined? Who will have visitation rights and how often? Will the other parent still be required to provide child support? How does the court determine the legit father to the child?
In this post, we discuss everything you need to know about child custody where parents are unmarried. So, let us get started right away.
For married couples determining paternity is quite simple and straightforward, but when the parents are unmarried, it becomes difficult to establish parental rights.
To be granted any custodial rights, the man must first establish that he is the biological father to the child in question. In most states across the country, unmarried fathers must establish paternity to be acknowledged as the kid’s legal parent.
Without establishing paternity, an unmarried father won’t receive any parental rights even if he is the biological father of the child.
If a question arises as to who may be the biological father to the child, there are several ways by which the parties involved can resolve it. One is for the couples to agree together that the man is the father of the child and list him accordingly on the kid’s birth certificate.
Another way is to obtain a DNA test either by order of the court or voluntarily. A DNA test will automatically prove whether or not the man in question is the child’s biological dad.
After establishing paternity by either of these methods, the father can now proceed with filing for child custody or visitation rights.
How Is Child Custody Determined?
Once both parents of the kid in question have been established legally, the child custody dispute will most likely be handled in the same manner as if they were married. Typically, when a child is born to an unmarried mother, the mother is automatically granted the full custodianship of the child.
The father doesn’t have any legal right to see the kid without a court order because there is no presumption of paternity under family law. This type of situation can prevent the father from being awarded child custody or visitation rights, even if he is the biological father of the child.
Although it may seem unfair to unmarried fathers, there is the good side of it. The system also prevents unmarried mothers from pursuing child support from the kid’s father. It would be unfair for the presumed father to give out child support if paternity has not been established and he is denied child custody or visitation rights on the other hand.
Automatic Rights in the Mother
Most states declare that if both parents are unmarried, the mother has automatic child custody rights. However, this rule will only apply if both the mother and father of the kid were never married to each other, and the mother wasn’t married to someone else at the time of giving birth.
Furthermore, there should not be any existing visitation or child custody order in place. Since the mother has automatic custody, she has the right to:
- Decide who sees the child.
- Restrict visitation of other people.
- Seek public benefits for the kid.
- Enroll the child in school.
- Make any other important decisions regarding the little one.
What Are the Child Custody Options If the Parents Are Unmarried?
Depending on a wide range of factors that we shall highlight below, the judge may decide to grant sole or joint custody.
In a joint custody arrangement, the mother and father will share the parenting time equally. However, if one parent is granted the sole custody of the child, the other parent, will only be granted visitation rights. It means that he/she will be allowed to see the kid regularly.
In some rare cases, especially where child abuse has occurred, the court may grant one of the parents sole custody of the kid and deny the other one visitation rights. If the court awards the other parent visitation rights, it will only be supervised visits in the presence of a social worker.
What Factors Do Courts Evaluate When Determining Child Custody/Visitation Rights?
The most critical factor that a court will consider when determining child custody is the best interest of the child. This usually involves the time spent with each parent and his/her involved in the child’s wellbeing and upbringing.
Judges don’t like depriving parents of their legal rights to be in their child’s life unless it is absolutely necessary. The other factors that play a critical role in settling child custody disputes include:
- Residence of each parent: Has the kid formed strong attachments to the local community, school, playground, etc.
- The financial status of each parent: Who can take good care of the child and provide for all of his/her needs? Will the child live a comfortable life with minimal distractions to their daily schedule?
- The moral character of each parent: How does each parent treat the kid? Do they show love, compassion, and respect towards him/her? How is their character, and can they provide a safe and stable environment for raising the kid?
Do I Need a Lawyer for Help with Child Custody as an Unmarried Parent?
The simple answer is “yes.” Child custody cases can be quite complicated, whether you are married or not. Therefore, you need an experienced attorney to assess your case and advice on the best thing to do. Dealing with it on your own can be stressful and costly in the long run.
At Legal Giant, we understand how complicated child custody cases can be. That is why our team of experienced family attorneys will take time to assess your situation and develop a clear plan on how they will handle your case. They will inform you of your rights and represent you in court if need be.
Contact us today and let us help you fight for your child custody rights!