As an unmarried father, your relationship and love for your child was never contingent upon a piece of paper confirming marriage to his or her mother. However, if you and the mother of your child are unmarried and have recently decided to part ways, the absence of marriage complicates this already difficult situation by calling your paternal rights into question. It becomes even more complex when your relationship ends bitterly and your ex seeks to punish you by claiming child custody of your son or daughter.
When a man and woman are not married, the law does not assume paternity — and as such, it doesn’t grant unmarried fathers rights. So how do you obtain unmarried biological father rights and gain custody over your child? Collins Family & Elder Law Group is here to put your mind at ease and walk you through your options.
Establish Paternity to Secure Legal Rights to Your Child
Paternity refers to the biological relationship between a man and his child, and it must be established if you want to have any legal rights as a father — including visitation and custody. If your baby was recently born, it’s critical to make sure your name is on the child’s birth certificate. This is the easiest way to establish paternity. It is usually done in the hospital, but you can also file and sign a paternity acknowledgment later through your state’s Department of health or the court system.
If your ex disputes your paternity, you will need to take an official DNA test so the court can formally establish whether or not you are the legitimate biological father. A qualified family law attorney can help you sort through this process.
Once you’ve successfully navigated the paternity step, you can then pursue custody and child visitation rights for unmarried fathers. The court will establish these based on what it deems to be in your child’s best interests. Here are a few of the rights you’ll be granted to your child after paternity has been established:
- The right to maintain a relationship with your child
- The right to input regarding your child’s health or education decisions
- The right to consent in the event of adoption
- The right to parenting time
Make Child Custody and Visitation Arrangements
Even if you aren’t married to the mother of your child, you have the same custody entitlements as your ex. People in amicable relationships will usually be able to work these matters out outside the courtroom and will simply have a judge approve the arrangement and formalize it in a court order.
But when things get contentious, a judge will intervene in a contested hearing to help the two conflicting parties agree on a custody and visitation arrangement. In general, courts want to give fathers rights to see their child because it tends to be healthier for him or her to be brought up by both parents. However, they look more favorably upon the mother if the father has had a history of money mismanagement, child or domestic abuse, substance abuse, or other problems that could put the child in jeopardy.
Be mindful that when navigating these arrangements, the judge will consider your relationship with the child in addition to the child’s best interests — or in other words, whatever arrangements and environments will help the child be the safest, healthiest, and happiest. If you have a good relationship with your son or daughter, things may work in your favor, as judges will also sometimes take into account the wishes of the child.
Be realistic about your expectations, though, as fathers rarely obtain sole custody unless the mother is deemed unfit for the role of primary caregiver. If you are concerned that the mother of your child has a history of problems with drug or alcohol abuse, child abuse, neglect, or other similar factors that could make her unfit, speak with one of our lawyers.
Remember that court orders are not set in stone. The law recognizes that circumstances change, so if you need to update a court order, you can petition for a modification of court orders.
Your Obligations as a Legal Parent
Legal Rights as a parent come with legal responsibilities. One of the most significant is child support, which will remain an obligation of fathers regardless of whether or not they obtain partial custody. Child support is the financial support you provide to your ex as a contribution to the expenses of raising a child. The amount is determined by your income, your ex’s income, the needs of the child, and other circumstances unique to your case. Be prepared to make significant contributions to your child’s life and show your investment in, and commitment to being a good father.
Trusted Child Support Lawyers for Fathers
As the times have changed, it has become no longer uncommon to be an unwed father. Our experienced family lawyers at Collins Family & Elder Law Group have helped many unmarried fathers through the stickiest of situations to secure and protect their rights to their child. We’re confident we can help you and your family find peace and stability. Call us today for a case consultation and make sure your rights are protected.