Child Custody and Visitation: What Are the Rights of an Unmarried Father?
Did you know that biological parents have the right to seek visitation or child custody? Their rights do not hinge on whether or not they are married to the child’s other parent or even whether or not they were married when the child was born. The court uses the best interest of the child to decide disputed child visitation or custody cases involving unmarried fathers just as they would in cases involving a married couple seeking divorce and contesting custody of their child. Unless there is evidence suggesting otherwise, the courts making child custody decisions assuming that the involvement of both parents will benefit the child.
In order to gain access to father’s rights, fathers who were not married when their child was born must legally establish paternity. This usually means that both parents sign and file an acknowledgement of paternity with the appropriate state agency or with the court. When paternity is disputed, DNA testing can be used to determine paternity with the legal process ending in a court order stating whether or not the man in question is the biological father of the child. Legally establishing paternity allows an unmarried father to seek visitation or other custody rights.
Seeking Child Visitation or Child Custody:
Many parents negotiate a parenting agreement or parenting plan that can include a wide variety of details, including: which parent will have primary custody, visitation schedules, decision-making regarding education, health, religion, etc. Visitation rights of unmarried fathers typically depend on their relationship with the child with any history of child abuse, drug or alcohol abuse, etc. being taken into consideration.
Court Orders for Visitation and Custody Rights:
When parents are not able to agree on a parenting plan, either may petition the court for child visitation or custody. Courts decide visitation and other custody issues based on the best interest of the child through a contested hearing that results in a court order determining visitation and custody rights. Parents who agree on their own parenting plan often file it with the court asking the judge to incorporate it into a court order so there is a means of enforcing the agreed upon parenting rights if it becomes necessary.
The court generally works on the premise that children will benefit from having both of their parents in their life. If this is not the case, the parent needs to present evidence that visitation with or custody by the other parent would likely be harmful to the child. Examples of this type of evidence would be a history of domestic violence or drug problems. Courts recognize the rights of unmarried fathers, but rarely award them sole custody of a child that is already being raised by the mother. Unmarried fathers seeking sole custody would need to show the court one of two things: 1) that the mother is unfit to raise the child or 2) that the father has actually been the child’s primary caregiver.
If you are an unmarried father and you need to discuss custody rights and visitation in more detail, please get in touch with one of the dedicated family law attorneys at Stanley-Wallace Law as soon as possible. We have the experience you need on your side.